Digitized by the Internet Archive
EPISCOPAL DIVINITY SCHOOL
EPISCOPAL FEMALE CLERGY LEADERS OF AFRICAN HERITAGE:
TRAILBLAZERS AND COLLEAGUES
Master of Divinity, Episcopal Divinity School, 2003
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the
Requirements for the degree of
DOCTOR OF MINISTRY
© Copyright by
Fredrica Harris Thompsett, M.A., Ph.D.
Mary Wolfe Professor Emerita of Historical Theology
President of the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church
L/i^ — I t^s
Edward W. Rodman, D.H.L., D.D.
Professor of Pastoral Theology and Urban Ministry
Episcopal Divinity School
To my parents, Dr. Oliver and Dorothy Coleman, for their love and wise guidance.
To My Trailblazers:
My loving husband Jamie.
It is with sincere thanks that I acknowledge the extremely helpful and patient
persons who have been my companions on this journey. They are my loving parents Dr.
and Mrs. Oliver Coleman, for their prayers and support. I would like to gratefully
acknowledge Rev. Robert G. Windsor who has served as my ally, my mentor and my
friend. Finally, I would like to sincerely thank my advisor, Dr. Fredrica Harris
Thompsett and my reader Canon Edward Rodman, who not only read and critiqued my
thesis, but shared such wonderful stories along the way. Lastly my husband, Jamie for
his love and patience.
Table of Contents
Page 1 1
The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray
The Rev. Mary Adebonojo
The Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris
The Rev. Dr. Sandra (Sandye) Wilson
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris
The Rev. Cn. Nan Arlington Peete
The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows
The Rev. Monique Ellson
The Rev. Cheryl Parris
The Rev. Mpho Tutu
The Rev. Paula Clark Green
Threads: A Conclusion in Progress
Questions and Group Work
"Episcopal Female Clergy Leaders of African Heritage, Trailblazers and
Colleagues" is a two part work focused on two groups of women and their stories,
spiritual formation, ministry and struggles. The first part consists of interviews with five
of the first eleven African American women ordained as priests in the Episcopal Church.
The second section looks at the ministry of some of my colleagues, whose paths I have
crossed during our ministry, who have or are working in all or predominately white
parishes. I have placed an asterisk by the names of women whom I have interviewed.
First Eleven African- American Women Ordained in the Episcopal Church
The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, January 1977 (Deceased)
The Rev. Mary Adebonojo, April 1980*
The Rt. Rev, Dr. Barbara C. Harris, October 1982*
The Rev. Michele Thornton, December 1981.
The Rev. Dr. Sandra (Sandye) A. Wilson, January 1982*
The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, February 1982*
The Rev. Norma Blackwell, January 1983
The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown-Douglas, September 1983
Dr. Ann Holmes Redding, March 1984
The Rev. Alcena Boozer, June 1 984
The Rev. Canon. Nan Arlington Peete, February 1985*
My selection of colleagues for part two are:
The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville Burrows, February 1998
The Rev. Monique Ellson, June 2002
The Rev. Cheryl Parris, September 2003
The Rev. Mpho Tutu, January 2004
The Rev. Paula Clark Green, January 2005
The Rev. Anne-Marie Jeffery, January 2005
1 Dr. Holmes-Redding was deposed on April 1, 2009
The reason for my particular selections was based on women that I have met
during my time as a seminarian and as a priest. These women have served as mentors,
confidants, guides and prayer partners along my journey toward ordained ministry, after
ordination and today. Even Pauli Murray, who I never had the opportunity of meeting,
provided me with the opportunity to walk with her through her letters, writings and
sermons. The only stories that have been previously published are those of the late Rev.
Pauli Murray , Bishop Barbara Harris' and Canon Nan Peete's have been the only stories
told in print. All the clergywomen included here have told me how they supported each
other in seminary, at their ordinations and how they continue to be part of each others
I was able to put together a chronological list after speaking with some of the
early women priests and cross-referencing the names they provided and their respective
ordination dates that were found in Louis Crew's "Directory of Black Clergy." Much of
the material that has been written about the early ordination of women in the Episcopal
Church has aroused my curiosity since my own matriculation as an Masters of Divinity
student at Episcopal Divinity School. My time as an MDiv student allowed me the
opportunity to have conversations with the Rev. Dr. Carter Heywood, in regards to her
experience as one of the first eleven irregularly ordained women priests. My early time
at EDS and my subsequent work experience has fostered into an interest in explaining the
evolution of women in the priesthood.
2 Pauli Murray's papers are housed in the Schlesinger Library, at Radcliffe Institute of Advanced
Studies, Cambridge MA.
www.rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/blackclergy.html (accessed September 10, 2009).
The questions uppermost in my mind were: "What was it like crashing up against
a glass ceiling? Where did you find support in your Herculean effort? What were some
of the major stumbling blocks as a local priest and on your journey to Bishop? What was
your spiritual journey that led you to your call to the ordained priesthood?" Concerns of
utmost importance to me were:
• The location of landmines along the road to becoming a priest
• The degree of sexism, racism and other ism's within the Episcopal
hierarchy as well as within parishes both black and white
• Words of wisdom to other ordained women of African heritage
Information gleaned from the interviews that was not relevant to my inquiry or too
personal to be cited here has not been included in this thesis.
I wanted to compare the stories of the trailblazers with those joys and difficulties
my contemporaries are still facing. I wanted to look at my contemporaries as also being
trailblazers serving in white and predominately white parishes. Where and how did
contemporaries and trailblazers intersect in God's call to the ministry? For these early
women are the ones at whose feet we sit at, listening intently while they share stories of
joy, laughter, heartbreak and frustration, always knowing of God's presence in their work
The selection of my contemporaries as a major source of information came out of
my wonderful experience working in an all-white parish, and having only one person that
I knew who was sharing a similar experience at the time. My contemporaries may have
met once or twice at the conference for black seminarians hosted by the national church,
we may have corresponded occasionally by e-mail, but several of us lost touch with each
other after ordination and others were not included in the conferences. I found my
contemporaries by word of mouth and through networking among priests. I now consider
these women I interacted with in the development of this thesis a circle of supportive
priests. All are pursuing a common interest in the moral theology of faith as the church
works through issues of civil rights, women's rights and liturgical reform.
The questions asked of all respondents were identical, to look at the differences
and the similarities over a span of twenty years. To see where these women's support
comes from and who were their allies. To look at trends in recruitment and deployment
of women of African heritage. To look at the prayerful places that keep them grounded
and to share stories of their life and struggles in ministry. My contemporaries for this
study came from a variety of backgrounds. They are single, married, married with
children, African American, South African, and Caribbean, gay and straight. The women
interviewed are all living on the eastern seaboard. I am cognizant that women in different
geographical regions may have had different experiences. Nonetheless, within the
constraints of space and focus in this thesis I wanted to adequately represent the diversity
of our faces in the Episcopal Church. 4
I believe the topic of this study is significant for it documents a growing
disparagement of women clergy and the way that they are still viewed in the 21 st century,
Black female priests are 1 8.2% of all the black priests, yet the 24 black female priests constitute
12.8% of all black priests in charge of ECUSA congregations in the 100 domestic dioceses. Males are
87.2% of all black priests in charge. Louie Crew "Black Priests in the Episcopal Church,
2002,www.rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/b lkpr.html. (accessed September 10, 2009).
particularly women of African heritage. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in
Episcopal white churches and to a large measure in black Episcopal churches. While
there is still work to be done on the anti-racism, anti-oppression fronts, the women
contacted for this study have overcome many previous obstacles confronting them in the
church to become agents of change. At the conclusion of the thesis I provide some
suggestions and present a list of questions and two exercises on how the results and
information of this study can be useful in an anti-racism, anti-oppression workshop on a
diocesan level, or to broaden the horizons of congregations to look beyond skin color and
gender in their search for a new rector.
The stories of the women's experiences gleaned for this work have grounded me
in my own African spiritual history and development. I have learned of the intersecting
relationships that have supported and connected our lives together. I know that I am held
up and supported by the women and men of all races who have not only gone before me,
but who walk with me to this day. I know that I am held in a circle of love, protection,
and prayer. Our connected stories will grow and continue with God's help.
Episcopal Female Clergy Leaders of African Heritage, Trailblazers and Colleagues
"Friends and countrymen!
I speak for my race and for my people!
The human race and just people.
- Pauli Murray 1
I remember attending nursery school at the Merrill-Palmer Institute for Child
Development in Detroit, Michigan. I had been one of three African American students
accepted for pre-school that year. I attended a racially mixed elementary school but was
only one of three African American youth in junior high school. I graduated from
Detroit's premier Cass Technical High School, renowned for its rigorous college bound
At the University of Michigan I majored in Art History, where my friend John
Hunter, a doctoral student and I were the only people of color. My first job out of college
was serving as an art appraiser trainer and later as an art appraiser at Sotheby's in New
York City. My love of art coupled with outstanding mentors in the world of art launched
my fundraising career with arts organizations. From there I moved on to continue my
fundraising career with Girl Scouts of the USA, The American Cancer Society and East
Stroudsburg University. The constant throughout was I was typically the only person of
color. So blazing new trails has become a way of life for me.
1 Pauli Murray, Dark Testament and Other Poems (Norwalk: Silvermine Publishers Inc. 1970).
I come from a long line of trailblazers; my mother was the first "colored" pharmacist
at Hudson's Department Store in Detroit. My mother obtained her job position through
the help of a close family friend, Dr. Francis A. Kornegay, who was then serving as
President of the Detroit Urban League. My father was the first one in his family to attend
college rising subsequently through the ranks of teacher, counselor, principal, school
superintendent and college professor. As the fourth generation to attend college on my
mother's side, stories were shared by my grandmother, grandfather and great uncle about
the racial discrimination on university campuses.
My journey into "Episcopal Women of African Heritage: Trailblazers and
Colleagues", begins in the spring of 2003 with an innocent enough conversation at the
offices of The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. The Rt. Rev. Roy Cederholm,
known as "Bishop Bud", was getting on the elevator and said, "Call Skip Windsor in
Needham, he's looking for an assistant." I had known Rev. Robert Windsor (Skip)
during my time at Episcopal Divinity School, where he served on the Congregational
Studies Committee, when I was working for The Rev. Dr. Sheryl Kujawa. As the rector
of Christ Church, Needham, Skip had an excellent reputation for being one of the good
guys and a solid mentor. I was excited to be presented with this opportunity.
Christ Church in Needham, is a suburban parish located 12 miles west of Boston.
It is surrounded by its wealthy neighbors of Wellesley, Dover and Newton. It would be
described as a relatively affluent community, and predominately white.
I knew nothing about the church or the town of Needham, except that Bishop Bud
had been the former rector. After a meeting with Skip, I attended a Sunday service to get
a feel for the parish. The call to the church became apparent to me a few weeks later
when a Christ Church parishioner passed away and I was invited to attend the service.
Mr. Bob Bell, the widower, spoke to me at the collation after the service, gave me a hug
and said, "We're going to love having you, it's a great place." I began my position as
Curate at Christ Church, Needham on August 1, 2003 and was ordained to the priesthood
in September 1 1th of that same year.
The three years spent at Christ Church were powerful times of spiritual and
priestly development. I believe that we grow into our priesthood and that God works
through us and through other people to nurture and develop that spiritual growth. I recall
my first pastoral home visit, when accompanied by Mrs. Fran Kurker, a member of the
parish care group introduced me to Mrs. Thelma Drake. In short, I was nervous.
Thelma, who was white, was a long time parishioner at the church. She ran the nursery
school, taught Sunday school, and worked in the thrift shop. You name it, Thelma had a
part in it. Thelma, had a presence about her. I could not help feel the presence of the
Holy Spirit in our conversations. I had had some memorable home appraisal experiences
during my time as an art appraiser for Sotheby's in New York because of my race. In a
few instances potential clients were surprised when the appraiser arriving to give
estimates was African American. I wasn't sure how elderly parishioners would react to
an African American female being their priest. From that day on until the day she died,
Thelma became a person I not only pastored to but who also person who provided
guidance to me.
I believe it takes a priest secure in themselves and in their priesthood to mentor
the newly ordained. Skip provided that guidance that I needed during those early years of
ordained ministry. The door was always open for discussion of our views or a variety of
church matters. I discovered that as a parish priest you must be engaged in the personal
and spiritual lives of your parishioners. Conversations that would not have taken place in
any of my solicitation visits or calls as a former fundraiser were now taking place on a
very personal and spiritual level.
My interests in ordained women of African heritage grew out of the lectures I
heard from Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett, Rev. Dr. Sheryl Kujawa Holbrook, Dr. Katie
G. Canon, Rev. Dr. Joan Martin and Rev. Kelly Brown-Douglas to name a few noted
scholars. I found that most articles and books on the subject were written from the
perspective of African American women serving in the Black Church or dealt with the
subject of womanist interpretations of the bible. It was more difficult to find material that
related to my particular ministry. Nowhere could I find any material regarding African
American women working in all-white parish settings. I found myself missing the
opportunity to connect with other women who were sharing the same experiences.
Outside the supportive walls of Christ Church I had become somewhat of an outcast
among some of my brothers and sisters of color and could not find a place of entry or
support from the National Church's Office of Black Ministries. Some of the statements
echoed from my colleagues of color were, "How'd YOU get that job?" or "Selling out to
the white church, heh." or "Still at the man's church." "When are you coming back to
your people." "Who did you know to get that job." All such expressions I found very
disconcerting. The Office of Black Ministries Conferences provided plenty of
conferences and workshops for clergy serving the black church. The Office provided no
workshops, mentoring or any other support mechanisms for the clergy of African heritage
who were not serving the black church. I might add a note here to say that I received no
employment offers, inquiries or mentoring from the African American male clergy, either
in the Diocese of Newark or in the Diocese of Massachusetts when I was first ordained.
I thought somewhere in the corpus of womanist theological studies someone must
already have written about this topic. I also thought that there must be other female
clergy of African heritage elsewhere who would like to share in this particular
conversation. I believe we are slowly entering into a new time in the Episcopal Church
and in the whole society about how we relate to each other. This change is signaled by
changes in the attitudes of bishops, deployment officers and search committees who
might have maintained the notion that women of African heritage are to be deployed to
black churches. We are now moving into a place where the ministry of women of
African heritage is valued in a variety of parish settings.
I also began to look differently at who I understood my Jesus to be, my
Christology and my theology. My views had to expanded beyond pedagogy of the
oppressed into something transformative and liberating. Prior to her death the Rev. Dr.
Pauli Murray envisioned writing a volume of work addressing her life within the
Episcopal Church. Pauli' s theology was based on the betterment of humanity working
through the church to serve this end. She recalls in her writings:
"All the strands of my life had come together. Now I was empowered
to minister the sacrament of One in whom there is no north or south,
no black or white, no male or female -only the spirit of love and
reconciliation drawing us all toward the goal of human wholeness"
I cannot enter into my own story without personal reflection and story telling of
my background. Neither can I enter into the story about the first African American
women ordained in the Episcopal Church without referring to two of the more notable
books regarding people of African heritage and the Episcopal Church.
In 1922, The Rev. Dr. George Freeman Bragg wrote History of the Afro-American
Group of the Episcopal Church. In the introduction written by The Rt. Rev. Theodore
DuBose Bratton, Bishop of Mississippi, Bratton praises Bragg for the "love of his church
and his people." He goes on to say, "The book is the story of the Church of the
Incarnation in American Negro Life, and of its fruits, an entrancingly interesting story to
every Churchman who loves to watch what the Lord God is doing among the sons of
men." It also should be noted however, that the stories of women laity are absent from
Bragg' s work.
It would be another 65 years before The Rev. Dr. Harold T. Lewis would pick up
the mantle again in his book, Yet, with a Steady Beat: The African American Struggle for
Recognition in the Episcopal Church which he dedicates to Rev. Bragg.. Lewis's history
brings one up to date in terms of the recent African American history in the Episcopal
Church. However, he writes nothing about the work of Black ordained women in the
church. Bishop Barbara Harris notes ". . .the significant contributions of lay people,
2 Pauli Murray, box 45, folder 806 Pauli Murray, Pauli Murray Papers, box 45, folder 806. Pauli
Murray Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliff College, Cambridge, MA.
3 George F. Bragg, History of the Afro-American Group of the Episcopal Church (Baltimore,
Church Advocate Press, 1922), 27.
4 Ibid, 28.
especially lay women, were not given more prominence in both the historical section as
well as the contemporary analysis." 5
Our history as ordained women of African heritage in the Episcopal Church has
been virtually ignored in writing by the church. Histories, and documents have been kept
in church records, personal collections and oral histories. The notable exceptions include
materials about the life and ordination of Pauli Murray in 1977, and the consecration of
Barbara C. Harris as the first woman and black women bishop in 1989. An article
"Different Voices" written by Marjorie Nichols Farmer, can be found in the collection
edited by Catherine Prelinger Episcopal Women: Gender, Spirituality and Commitment in
an American Mainline Denomination. The article written in 1992 gives a brief synopsis
of the history of ordained women of African heritage. Otherwise the stories of our
ordained sisters are a part of what is known as "the invisible church." 6
What we bring to the table as ordained women of African heritage is our heritage,
our ancestors, and a different social history. It does not represent one social heritage but
a variety of voices: we are southern rooted, northern rooted, African American, Afro-
Caribbean, African, single, married, divorced, straight, lesbian, young, middle aged and
graceful in our maturity. What we all have witnessed is the history of institutional racism
in our beloved Episcopal Church, but we have all witnessed also the transformative
nature of God as God calls us to witness in our ministry.
5 Quoted in "A compendium of Reactions to: Yet with a Steady Beat: The African American
Struggle for Recognition in The Episcopal Church by Harold T. Lewis. Irene V. Brown, ed, Spring 1996
Supplement, Linkage, 14.
6 Marjorie Nicols Farmer. Episcopal Women: Gender, Spirituality and Commitment in an
American Mainline Denomination, ed. Catherine Prelinger (New York: Oxford, 1992) 222.
Our story as Episcopal women of the cloth is rooted in those who came before us
to make our ordination a reality. If it Wasn 'tfor the Women is the name of a book written
by Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, who says, "Black women community activists and
churchwomen have a deep sense of their indispensability to the organizations and
institutions in which they participate." We have always served in leadership roles in the
church and done much of the work behind the scenes. Quite naturally the question is
raised: Why is it so difficult to be able to see us on the altars of white and multi-racial
In 1974, two years before the National Church voted to make the ordination of
women to the priesthood canonically possible, The Rev. Paul Washington , rector of
Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, allowed for the "irregular
ordination" of eleven women in his parish. Washington would later recall in his book,
Other Sheep I Have, "After the event I had time to stop and realize what I had gotten
myself into. In obeying God in heaven, I had disobeyed the principal powers of the
church." 9 Washington went on to recall another reflection after his admonishment from
Bishop Ogilby. 10 "Along with the yoke of Christ, like the cross, we are to expect
suffering, but how beautiful and fulfilling it is to endure a suffering that is life-giving and
redemptive." 11 It would be another two years before the national church voted to make
the ordination of women to the priesthood canonically possible.
7 Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, "If it Wasn 'tfor the Women" (New York, Orbis, 2001), 4.
' Rev. Washington was an early champion of women's ordination.
The Rev Paul Washington, Other Sheep I Have (Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1994),
10 Bishop Lyman Ogilby, Bishop, Diocese of Pennsylvania.
11 Ibid, 172.
In 1981 , when Bishop Barbara was asked at the Black Women's Task Force at the
Third National Conference of Episcopal Church Task Force on Women, how does the
black women's agenda differ from that their white sisters, she responded:
We have a parenting function and responsibility, a pastoral care
function and responsibility, and [a responsibility for] the preaching
the good news to the poor, in tangible forms. But we came at it
with different priorities, born out of different needs and different
In recent years ordained women of African heritage have begun to move out of
the black church, into churches of racial and ethnic diversity, and most recently into all-
white parish settings. We have found that while we could come together around the table
in some places it still mattered that a man set the table. Old ways of thinking of the
minister being the male head of the church and a pastor to the community still mattered,
not only to the congregation but to the male clergy themselves. Pauli Murray notes in her
letters that two African American bishops, The Rt. Rev John Walker and The Rt. Rev
John Burgess 4 were not early supporters of women's ordination. They both later
changed their minds. Pauli' s wonderful quote from one of her unsent letters to Bishop
Walker ends with; "God made me as I am, are you a Bishop of the Church, questioning
God's handiwork?" traditional thinking still occupies the altars of some of some parishes,
the doors have been gradually been opened to receive female priests of African heritage.
We have and continue to break down glass ceiling and other barriers to our ordained
12 Farmer, 225
13 The Rt. Rev. John T. Walker (1925-1989) served as the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of
Washington from 1977-1989.
14 The Rt. Rev. John Burgess (1909-2003) served as Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of
Massachusetts from 1962-1970. In 1970, he was elected Diocesan Bishop and served until 1975. Burgess
was the first African- American elected to the position of a Diocesan.
leadership. We have and continue to join together to pray for and support other female
priest of African heritage whether we know them by name or not.
The first section is mostly based on my interviews from four of the first eleven
African American women ordained in the Episcopal Church. Information regarding the
ministry of Pauli Murray came from her papers housed at the Schlesinger Library. The
next set of stories consists of interviews from my colleagues in ministry. These women
have worked in white and predominately white parishes. In the section "Threads" I look
at the similarities and differences in ministries and experiences that span the course of 20
years in ministry. The conclusion is a witness on the importance of these missing stories
in the life of The Episcopal Church (TEC). The appendix provides educational models
and questions to be used by search committees, deployment officers and bishops in
raising up the ordained leadership of women of African heritage.
I invite you as you are reading this thesis to see how your lives have possibly
intersected with any of the women interviewed. Share with them, laugh with them, cry
with them and freely share the stories that have been so freely presented here with others.
Let us begin through our shared experience to continue to open the doors for those who
will come after us.
CHAPTER I: TRAILBLAZERS
The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray
If you dislike me just because
my face has more of Sun than yours,
then, when you see me, turn and run
but do not try to bar the sun.
February 1938 15
This chapter contains to stories of five of the first eleven African American
women ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church are chronicled. These and
stories that chronicle spiritual journeys, experiences and words of support and
encouragement to those women who have followed in their footsteps.
Pauli Murray (Anna Pauline Murray) was born in Baltimore, Maryland on
November 20, 1910. Her mother, a nurse, died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of
thirty-five, when Pauli was only three years old. 1 Because of her father's inability to
care for all six of the Murray children, Pauli was raised by her Aunt Pauline in Durham,
North Carolina. Living with her aunt, a school teacher, Murray knew well the drive for
educational excellence and church activity, because the classroom and church were "a
natural extension of my home life when I was growing up." Pauli maintained this
15 Pauli Murray, Dark Testament and other Poems, (Norwalk,Conn. Silvermine, 1 970), 30.
16 Murray reflects on her mother's death in "Problem Child" Pauli Murray Papers,box 84, folder
17 Pauli Murray, Pauli Murray: The Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest,
and Poet (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989), 48: originally published as Song in a Weary
Throat: An American Pilgrimage (New York: Harper & Row, 1987).
commitment to education throughout her studies beginning in 1928 at Hunter College in
New York City.
After completing her bachelor's degree, Pauli worked with social-service oriented
agencies, most notably as a field secretary with the Worker's Defense League. In 1940
while working for the League she came in contact with Odell Waller, a man sentenced to
die for murdering the owner of the land he sharecropped. As a result of Waller's
execution, Pauli decided to attend law school to help eradicate legalized racism, a system
of injustice that claimed countless victims like Waller. She enrolled at Howard
University Law School in 1941, where she encountered some of the greatest civil rights
scholars of her era. With their help, she began to develop and hone her legal skills and
her acute awareness of and sensitivity to civil rights issues. Because of the civil rights
emphasis of the school, Pauli spent a great deal of time discussing segregation and the
law, which often indirectly affected later arguments of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
She was directly involved in providing legal council for a group of Howard
women in January 1 943 for refusing to pay a tax (applied to purchases made by black
customers) on cups of hot chocolate. This outrage sparked action as students organized a
civil rights committee, with the support of the NAACP. They used their educational
background in law, and tools such as the "stool sitting technique," to fight for equal
18 Pauli also had an interest in creative writing. She often corresponded with the poet Stephen V.
Benet to gain critical comments concerning her poetry. Although Benet recognized genuine talent in her
poetry, he advised her not to depend on poetry for a living. This contributed to her decision to pursue law.
Dark Testament and Other Poems (Norwalk, Conn.: Silvermine, 1970) contains poetry written by Pauli
from 1933 to 1941.
accommodations in Washington, D.C. in 1 943-44. 19 Pauli's commitment to integration
later resulted in an arrest while traveling to North Carolina for failure to obey Jim Crow
transporting regulations. Her interest in nonviolent direct action also implied an
understanding of the manner in which physical aggression eats away at the essential self
of aggressors and victims. It is evident that she had begun wrestling with the demands of
justice and the manner in which one's life or ultimate orientation must correspond with
one's definition of justice.
Pauli graduated from Howard Law School in 1944 and was ranked number one in
her class. Based on her achievements at Howard, she applied to Harvard Law School but
was rejected because of her gender. She practiced law in her own office and later as an
associate in Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, one of New York City's large
private firms. In her autobiography, Pauli recounts the awkwardness and loneliness of
being the oldest entry-level attorney, the only African- American, and the only woman
practicing law in the firm. It was during this time that she would meet her life-long
partner, Irene Barlow, who was working as an executive secretary at the firm.
Pauli, while growing restless at the firm, began to take an interest in the emerging
movements for African independence. She decided to pursue this interest by accepting a
post at a law school being developed in Ghana between 1960 and 1962. This time in
Ghana also gave her an opportunity to explore her own racial identity and to reflect on
19 Murray, Murray Papers, box 84, folder 1457.
20 For an account of this incident, see Pauli's interview with Robert Martin on August 15 and 17,
1968, for the Ralph J. Bunch Oral History Collection, found in the Murray Papers, box 1, and folder 8.
the race problem in the United States. After much discernment Pauli returned to the
United Sates and earned a S.J.D. from Yale. With degree in hand, Pauli would hold
many positions and appointments, including vice president and professor of political
science at Benedict College in South Carolina, and as a member of the President's
Commission on the Status of Women. In addition, she was an important figure in the
development of the National Organization of Women.
The 1960's were turbulent times, especially on college campuses. It was Morris
Abram, the newly selected President at Brandeis University in New York City, who
recruited Pauli to accept a position in the department of American Studies with
encouragement to develop legal studies courses appropriate for the department.
Pauli' s approach to activism did not prepare her for the turmoil present on the
Brandeis campus. She hoped to foster a version of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "beloved
community" but quickly found that this vision was not in keeping with the demands of
the Brandeis students. She recognized that experience and perspective separated her
from African American students on campus:
Those forty years of intense personal history separated me from the young
black students and gave me a somewhat different perspective on the
ubiquitous racial dilemma which now tore at their vitals.
Pauli would not overlook the sexism of the Black Power movement; her feminist
perspective did not allow for this. Yet at the same time she appreciated the movement's
21 In Ghana, Pauli grew restless to return to the states as chronicled in the letters to her dear friend
Caroline Ware. Thaddeus M. Davis &: Linda K. Kerber eds., Pauli Murray & Caroline Ware, forty years
of letters in black & white (Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 2006).
' S.J.D., Doctor of Judicial Science. This terminal degree in law was then offered by a distinct
minority of law schools.
23 Murray, Pauli Murray, 390.
attempt to develop an identity that restored pride and celebrated the rich cultural heritage
of African Americans.
Pauli gave credit to Eleanor Roosevelt and to King as the inspiration for bringing
together issues of racism and sexism. She also remarked that reflecting on these figures
pointed out the importance of the Christian tradition as a source of empowerment. She
believed that at the core of the human crisis was a moral and spiritual question to be
addressed by thoughtful people. However, her years of involvement with the Episcopal
Church forced recognition of the problems within the Christian tradition, problems she
could not ignore. Her involvement on the Special Commission on Ordained and
Licensed Ministries, combined with her contacts at the Episcopal Divinity School,
sensitized her to the sexism in the church; and in keeping with her commitment to justice,
she vowed to leave the church before bowing to that sexism: "I had been taught all my
life to revere the church and its teachings; now I could only condemn the church as sinful
when it denied me the right to participate as fully and freely in the worship of God as my
brethren. If the present church customs were justified, then I did not belong in the church
and it became a stumbling block to faith." 24 Eventually, in protest, she left the church,
only to return with a renewed commitment to foster change through personal example.
Over several years, the struggle for women's full inclusion in lay activities grew to
include a quest for the priesthood for women.
The death of Pauli' s life partner, Irene, forced a reevaluation of her participation
in the life of the church. As a layperson within the church she had been unable to provide
24 Ibid, 370.
for Irene's spiritual needs by administering last rites. This realization, combined with a
reflection of her personal priorities, resulted in Pauli's moving toward ordained ministry.
Questions of community and morality were not new to Pauli; she had faced these
continuously both as a child and as an adult. This reality, combined with her strong
spirituality, required consolidation in a way easily provided by the priesthood. However,
some suggest that Pauli's long history as a caregiver speaks to an early interest in
ministry. Suzanne Hiatt notes, "When the issue of women in the priesthood came up, old
dreams and a new fight began to stir in her."
Regardless of what ultimately moved her, she resigned her position at Brandeis in
1973, one year after receiving tenure, and decided to bring together formally her
religiosity and her work toward justice through ministry in the Episcopal Church.
Pauli began her studies at General Theological Seminary in New York City with
the ultimate goal of becoming an Episcopal priest. The value of ordination for her was
that it would facilitate a more complex set of tools for the betterment of life in the United
States through praxis on behalf of humanity. This general care for humanity was more
than an internally derived imperative; it became, through call to ministry, an overt and
institutionally recognized obligation:
Pauli was sponsored for ordination by Emmanuel Church, Newbury Street, in
Boston. The Rt. Rev. John Burgess, not an immediate supporter of woman's ordination,
allowed her to be ordained in Washington, D.C. She was ordained to the priesthood in
' Suzanne R. Hiatt. "Pauli Murray: May Her Song Be heard at Last" Journal of Feminist Studies
in Religion 4 (Fall 1988): 69-73. The Rev. Dr. Suzanne Radley Hiatt, September 1 1, 1936 - May 30, 2002
was one of the first eleven women ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia.
Murray, Murray Papers, box 45, folder 86.
January of 1977. She would spend the remainder of her life pastoring two churches, the
Church of the Atonement in Washington, D.C. and the Church of the Holy Nativity in
Baltimore. She also spent a good deal of time on the road as a visiting priest. She
attended the ordinations of Mary Adebonojo, Barbara Harris and Sandye Wilson.
Pauli knew that feminist theology was not free from flaws. She knew that the one
danger present in feminist thought is its tendency to isolate sexism as the only notable
form of oppression. Pauli preferred to speak of cooperation or relationships between
racist and sexist behavior.
Black theology had also had a difficult time maintaining a balance between issues
of racism and other forms of oppression. From Pauli' s perspective, black theology places
so much emphasis on black collective reality and the particular (as opposed to the
universal) that its analysis does not extend beyond racial groups to the merit of individual
effort and responsibility. I believe that Pauli was correct in identifying this as a harmful
oversight that downplays individual acts of tenacity and the place of individual
commitment in the achievement of societal equity. Pauli was rightfully disturbed by the
manner in which the progress of black men often means the destruction of essential
characteristics in black women - a sense of independence, forthrightness, moral
The social analysis offered by feminists such as Mary Daly, Rosemary Radford
Ruether, and Letty Russell, as well as the work of theologian J. DeOtis Roberts, proved
to be very useful to Pauli. She found the emphasis on reconciliation within Robert's
work inspiring, because it enhanced movement beyond discord and isolation, toward the
emergence of a unified human family.
Pauli understood that both feminist and black theologies spoke to a need for
humanization and an understanding of the oppressed as subjects of history with whom
God identifies. Although they were both vital movements towards religious and social
betterment, neither spoke to the experiences of African American women who suffered
because of their race, gender, and class. Black male theologians approached "women's
issues" with suspicion, and feminists held a rather provincial conception of the
community of women. Keeping this narrow agenda, both feminists and black theologians
ignored the uniqueness of black women. According to Pauli:
Negro women have tremendous power. How shall they use their
power? How can they help Negro men and themselves to achieve
mature relationships in the wider community without impairing this
tradition? Or is it inherent in the struggle that Negro men can achieve
maturity only at the price of destroying in Negro women the very
characteristics which are stressed as part of the American tradition and
which have been indispensable to the Negro's steep climb out of
slavery? And if these qualities are suppressed in the women, what will
be the effect upon the personalities of future generations of Negro
Pauli proposed a theology of relationship that was pro-black, pro-woman and
concerned with the dangers of particularization. Emilie Townes speaks of womanist
spirituality as rooted in the striving of earlier black women, and the strength of this
connection holds, I believe, for Pauli as well.
7 Murray, Murray Papers, box 99, folder 1776.
28 Ibid, box 84, folder 1458.
29 Ibid, box 23, folder 475.
African American women began with an intense personal experience
of the divine in their lives and took that call to salvation into the public
realm to reform a corrupt moral order. Their spirituality, which at first
viewing resembles a self-centered piety with little relation to the larger
context, is an excellent example of the linking of personal and societal
transformation.... 120These women sought perfection and advocated
social reforms in the framework of a spirituality that valued life and
took seriously the responsibility to help create and maintain a just and
moral social order.
Pauli's theological reflection highlighted areas that would later be explored by
womanist theologians. Her sense of personal defiance and her life mirror, I believe, are
the essence of Alice Walker's definition of womanish. Pauli's intellectual insights into
the omission of black women from American life and liberation struggles are a core
component of womanist thought. In many ways I would say that Pauli provided the early
ideological and technical framework for womanist thought.
There is no definite connection I can make concerning the reasons for her absence
from past as well as current womanist thought. If I were to speculate, it would be
attributable to her grounding in the Episcopal Church. Many of the foundations of the
womanist movement were and still are centered in the traditional black church.
Pauli has left behind a firm foundation and has blazed a trail for other women of
African heritage to follow. I asked Gayle Harris one day, after so much struggle, so
many setbacks, was Pauli finally content and settled with her life and her numerous
accomplishments when she passed on July 1, 1985. Gayle responded that she was.
" Emilie Townes. In a Blaze of Glory, Womanist Spirituality as a Social Witness (Nashville:
Abington, 1995), 36.
31 Phillips, 19.
The Rev. Mary Adebonojo
'From about age five I was drawn to something spiritual"
When I received Mary's interview questions by mail, I put the unopened envelope
on my home altar and would not open it for three days. In my mind it was sacred text
from the second African American woman ordained in TEC. Mary's writing would
certainly be sacred history, a keepsake to be cherished and reserved. I would wait for a
quiet moment to snuggle down in my favorite chair and let the content and words wash
over me like a cool and refreshing breeze. Mary was honored that I included her in this
work. She had never been asked to share her story before.
Mary was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended the 1 9 Street Baptist Church, a
largely middle class African American congregation. She moved to Washington, D.C.
following a car accident that left her mother hospitalized for an extended period of time.
Her mother's sister and her legal guardian were in charge of the Sunday school and
Vacation Bible School, and made sure that Mary attended each of them. This immersion
gave Mary a firm biblical foundation.
She recalls that her extended family were devout Christians. The women were
well educated and worked outside the home. Music and art were important and the
family frequently sang spirituals and hymns. She was exposed to a wider world view
through her uncle, who during and after World War II worked with people who were of
different nationalities and cultures. She also remembers that the family members that
2 Mary Adebonojo, interview by author, August 31, 2009.
were Protestant were deeply suspicious of those family members and friends who were
Roman Catholic, and vice versa.
Mary remembers receiving a call to ministry from about the age of five, when she
was drawn to something spiritual, but at the time she wasn't clear what form her vocation
should take. Her call/drawing was to manifest itself in different ways and different times
over the course of her life. Mary obtained her undergraduate degree from Radcliffe
College and her Master's degree in folklore from the University of California at
Following graduation she accepted a position teaching folklore and serving as
Coordinator of the Black Studies Program at Dominican College in San Rafael,
California. It was here that she had access to Dominicans extensive library of biblical
studies and theology. She remembers reading the library's collection constantly.
As a Consultant in Religious Education from a Black perspective for the Office of
Black Ministries of the national church, then headed by Rev. Frank Tuner she had a
profound sense of her call. She came to the conclusion that, if she was feeding God's
people through workshops and curriculum, she should also be the one feeding them
Eucharist. It was then she decided that whatever was "drawing" her, the road she should
take in terms of vocation should be to the priesthood rather than the vocational diaconate.
It was during this time that Mary wrote the book Free to Choose, for religious education
for youth from a black perspective.
33 Later to become Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania 1988-2000.
The ordination process was not fully in place in the Diocese of Pennsylvania
when Mary entered the process. She was sponsored by the Church of the Advocate; there
was no postulancy or parish committee to help her discern her call to parish ministry.
The newly formed Commission on Ministry met less than a week after the first irregular
ordination of women to the priesthood.
Barbara Harris, who was then a parishioner at the Advocate, was Mary's
companion on her journey. Sue Hiatt served as something of a mentor, but much of her
guidance and support came from a large number of African American and white male
priests, both in the Diocese of PA and elsewhere, who were enthusiastically in favor of
the ordination of women priests.
Since she was over the age of thirty-three and had a master's degree in another
discipline, Mary was eligible in the Diocese of Pennsylvania to sit for the General
Ordination Exams and be ordained a transitional deacon under what she describes as the
"Old Man's Canon after taking a minimal number of courses in the of the GOE's area. 34
She was able to take these classes as a special student at Philadelphia Divinity School
(PTS), before the school moved to Cambridge and joined Episcopal Theological School
(ETS) to become Episcopal Divinity School. Her remaining year was spent at the
Lutheran Seminary at Mt. Airy (in Philadelphia) where, to her surprise, the problem with
her professor, who taught both the theology and ethics courses, was not her race or
gender. It was her age and her high church leanings. Apparently the high church
leanings was the norm with the transfers from PDS. Mary was ordained to the diaconate
34 Mary was ordained out of the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia.
in 1977. She could have been ordained to the priesthood in 1977 but she left to live in
Nigeria with her husband. On returning to the states in 1 979, she was ordained to the
Before Mary moved to Nigeria, Bishop Lyman Ogilby of Pennsylvania asked the
Archbishop of Nigeria whether he would accept Mary as a priest. He responded with a
vigorous "no" and accused the Bishop of trying to force him to accept a woman priest.
Not only would Mary not be accepted in Nigeria, she would not be accepted anywhere in
Africa. However, he would accept her as a deacon, since they had once had a deaconess
in Nigeria from England. The Province of Nigeria still does not ordain women priests.
Some of her work in Nigeria included preaching and conducting services at an
interdenominational Christian Chapel at the University of Ife and serving on the Nigerian
Council of Churches' Working Committee for the revision of the religious curriculum in
the secondary school.
After her return to Pennsylvania she took a half-time position of vicar/priest-in-
charge at St. Matthias. The church is located in a neighborhood that was in transition
from white to black, and incurring anger from the former for reaching out to potential
members of the latter group. After Mary arrived, a number of whites signaled that they
would be leaving the parish. Others gave her a very warm welcome. Soon after, Mary
and her husband separated and she needed to seek a full-time position. She enrolled to do
a CPE (clinical pastoral education) residency in preparation for a position as a hospital
and hospice chaplain. She recalls the reason she left parish ministry,
I felt someone else - someone more extraverted - was
needed to do evangelism. I felt that I could work better
where ability to relate to individuals and small groups
was important. I felt that I needed to know more about
the role of suffering in our lives as Christians and how
to deal pastorally with people who are suffering.
She worked two part-time positions, one in a parish and another as a hospital chaplain.
When a full-time position was open at the hospital she accepted and remained there for
almost 14 years. Into her 60' s, she decided that it was getting to be too much to stay up
all night with a dying patient and their family and then work an eight hour day.
Having an interest in shared ministry, Mary interviewed and was accepted for the
position as part of a team of missioners for the Episcopal Shared Ministry of Rockland
County, New York. Her work was to develop the ministry of the laity in four targeted
parishes and to later broaden the ministry in the Diocese of New York. Even into her
second retirement Mary has continued to be involved in community justice work.
Now in her 80' s and living in New Hampshire with her second husband, Mary has
had time to reflect on her life and ministry. She recalls that was through the efforts of
Bishop Barbara that the first group of African American women ordained to the
priesthood was supportive of one another. They attended one another's ordinations and
celebrations and spent considerable time with one another. Her greatest joys have been
participating in the ordination of the first African women to priesthood in Uganda,
participating in the consecration of Bishop Barbara Harris, and seeing African Americans
whom she has mentored or for whom she has served as spiritual director become fine
She believes that women of African heritage approach the Church as an extended
family, a place to find support, nourishment and relationships. She also believes that the
Church is a school for leadership training and support (especially of our young), a center
for working with the community towards its upgrading, and inspiring young people to see
how the Gospel speaks now to the world in which they live.
Grounded in many spiritual practices, she enjoys: weekly Eucharist, morning
Anglican rosary, conversations with Jesus about the anticipated challenges and questions
of the day, intercessions, confessions, and thanksgivings throughout the day.
The Right Rev. Barbara Clementine Harris
'Be authentic, be yourself. Do not conform to some kind of model you think is the
Episcopal Church." 35
This is a quote from Bishop Barbara C. Harris when asked the question, "What
information, advice etc. would you like to pass onto women of African heritage in
I remember my first meeting with Bishop Barbara in her office at The Diocese of
Massachusetts. I had just been released by my Bishop John P. Croneberger to find
employment in another Diocese, since the Diocese of Newark would not have any job
openings. I walked into the meeting scared and nervous. She asked me to speak up
because she could not hear me. Over the course of our conversation I grew less and less
nervous and more and more comfortable. Eight years later as we sat down over lunch for
her interview, there was a new sense of spirit of "connectiveness" with another African
American female who had blazed a trail before me.
Barbara was born into an Episcopal family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They
attended St Barnabus Church in the Germantown section. As she says "Being Episcopal
was just a given." Her mother, Beatrice Harris, had been the organist, choir director, and
member of the church guild. Barbara was confirmed at 1 1 and says there was "no
hiatus"; she was in the choir, taught church school, and started a young adult group.
Barbara Harris, interview by author, Boston, MA. September 16, 2009. All subsequent quotes
are taken directly from the interviews.
Her early life was formed by the priests who served her parish, especially Father
Ernest S. Thomas. To Barbara he was a teacher, father, guide, and held a strong
influence in her Christian formation. She remembers that he also taught her about racism.
She was also influenced by her Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Eveline Jones. Mrs. Jones
"valued the lives of children." She was like an aunt.
Before receiving the call to ordination she was active in lay ministry both at St.
Barnabus and Church of the Advocate. She served on the vestry and ran a program for
prison ministry. She had a feeling God was calling her to a "new dimension" of ministry.
After some time of self-searching, she concluded that she was not worthy. This would
lead her to what she describes as a "marathon talk" with the Rev. Paul Washington,
Rector of Church of the Advocate. The conversation lasted from 7:00 pm until 2:00 am.
Father Washington concluded their conversation by saying "at what point do we go to the
Bishop?" to which Barbara replied "there is no reason to delay." She was working at the
time as the Public Relations Manager with the Sun Oil Company, managing a team of
twenty-six people. She opted with the permission of her bishop, Lyman Oglebee, to take
a series of classes at a variety of theological schools in the Philadelphia area. She was
exempt from the preaching classes her bishop did not want a class tampering with her gift
for preaching. She finished her course of study with some resident courses at Episcopal
Divinity School where she was to "integrate into the life of a seminary community." She
recalls with favor that then Dean Harvey Guthrie made her feel part of the EDS
community. Her only regret in her course of study was that she was never able to study
under The Rev. Dr. James Forbes.
Barbara did not want to be ordained in June as is customary. A June ordination
would have meant that she would not be able to serve as a lay deputy to General
Convention. After some displeasure from her Bishop, Barbara won out and was ordained
in October 1980.
Her first position was as a deacon intern at Church of the Advocate in
Philadelphia; also serving as the Executive Director of Episcopal Church Publishing
Company. One month before her ordination to the priesthood she was asked to serve at
the St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in Norristown, Pennsylvania as Deacon-in-Charge.
She recalls that they could be quite difficult to work with. She says she inherited two
congregations, "one that ran the dinner dance and one that ran the fashion show. Their
idea of stewardship was to see who could sell the most tickets to the Baptists down the
street." At one point a group of parishioners were passing around a petition to be
presented to the Bishop for her removal to which she responded, "Please bring me the
petition so that I may sign it." She spent four years at St. Augustine's; her Bishop
thought it would teach her humility. At the 1987, convention for the Diocese of
Massachusetts it was agreed that they would hire a Suffragan Bishop. A nominating
committee was formed and one of the six nominees was Barbara Harris. In his book The
Miter Fits Just Fine, the Rev. Mark Bozzuti Jones describes her getting-to-know-you
sessions; "She spoke with authority and all were amazed at her wisdom." Barbara was
elected Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts in September 1988, less than
36 Mark F. Bozzuti- Jones, The Miter Fits Just Fine (Cambridge, MA., Cowley Publications, 2003),
10 years into her ordained ministry. On February 11, 1989 she was consecrated a bishop,
the first woman to be ordained in the episcopate in the worldwide Anglican Communion.
She recalls that over 8500 people were at her consecration, with some 60 bishops
in attendance. People came from all over the world. To this day she still runs into people
who were there. The local television station was initially scheduled to cover an hour of
the service. In the end they provided coverage for all three.
Opponents held her election against her because she was an African American
woman, and because she had not been a rector. Some believed she had not followed the
"usual" route of seminary training and had been an outspoken advocate for issues of
social justice. The Diocese of North Carolina ran a picture of her with the "no" symbol
through her face that read, "The Wrong Woman at the Right Time."
When asked "What was it like being part of the first 1 1 African American women
ordained in the Episcopal Church". Bishop Barbara responded that Pauli and Mary had
gone before her. She fondly remembers Pauli as a woman who would "dress down Jesus
Christ." In recalling her friendship with the first African American women ordained to
the priesthood she recalls Pauli Murray attending her ordination, serving as Bishop's
chaplain at Sandye Wilson's ordination, and preaching at Nan Arrington Peete's
ordination. She also enjoyed some degree of closeness with Alcena Boozer although she
lived in Oregon.
When asked what have been her greatest joys, she responded that is was being
called to the Episcopate. She finds her joy in confirming and receiving young people and
adults into the church, and in having the opportunity to interact with people who have
been affirming of her ministry. She recalls being on Cape Cod for a visitation when a
gentleman in his 80's walked up to her and said, "Baby, keep doing what you're doing."
She maintains that the people of Massachusetts and around the church continue to be
affirming and welcoming to this day.
When reflecting on experiences that are unique to priests who are women of
African heritage, she remarks that "initially we have had limited opportunities to serve,
this has proven to be a mixed bag. Each one of us has had their own unique experiences
and it has ALL been interesting." Her joy has always been her calling to the Episcopate
and having the opportunity to interact with people who have been affirming in her
ministry. Her stated challenge was believing that "GOD had really called her to ordained
How do "we" do church as women of African heritage? Bishop Harris took some
time to reflect on this question. Her answer was, "The way we do church is reflected in
our preaching. Our preaching is scripturally centered." She noted that it is our tendency
to cite scripture as contained in the poetry of black hymns. Through that imagery we
"draw vivid images of what scripture is trying to say. I usually close with a hymn; my
sermons are laced with hymnody."
A strong prayer life keeps Bishop Barbara centered, as well as people in the
church. She keeps in touch with clergy colleagues. She looks forward to her bi-monthly
meeting with clergy and lay people at the Diocese of Massachusetts offices. Her support
resources are three current Trustees at Episcopal Divinity School with whom she
regularly chats and breaks bread.
When asked about her experience with "ism's" she stated that classism is a given.
Her retirement has offered her an opportunity to travel on preaching and speaking
engagements. She tries as best she can to try to honor invitations from small parishes.
The advice she gives to those female seminarians of African heritage is, "be authentic, be
yourself, don't try to conform to some kind of model you think is The Episcopal
The Rev. Sandye Wilson
'Be yourself be happy and proud of who you are. God don't make no junk!"
The Rev. Sandye Wilson has got to be one of the busiest priests that I know. I
first met Sandye face to face during The Diocese of Newark Convention in 2002. I was
in my last year of seminary and she had just been called to be rector at St. Andrew and
Holy Communion Church in South Orange, New Jersey. She was at that time the only
African American female rector in the diocese. As a candidate for ordination, I sought her
out, and as they say, sat at the feet of one who has gone before. From that point on an
invitation was extended and a door was always open for further conversations and check-
ins. During our interview she commented that the first twelve African American women
ordained to the priesthood were all left-handed.
Sandye was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of what she describes as a
mixed-marriage. Her father was a sixth generation Episcopalian and her mother was
Roman Catholic. In order for her mother to marry outside the faith, her father had to
agree to raise the children in the Catholic tradition. She remembers well the Saturday
confessions. In the fourth grade her parents gave her and her twin a choice as to which
church they wanted to attend. They chose the Episcopal Church. But her early life in
"ministry" came as a first grader when she proceeded to bless the priest. It continued
when she came home from church and took a biscuit cutter, linens and the oil and vinegar
cruets and proceeded to set up communion on the piano bench. After reading the Bible
Sandra Wilson, interview by author, by phone. October 4, 2009
cover to cover at age 1 6 she knew that she wanted to be a priest. She remarked that being
a nun was out of the question.
The call to ordination didn't come with a bang but with the quietness of a still,
almost imperceptible voice. It was a call to be a contemplative activist. Sandye tells her
life story in wonderfully vivid imagery. In her sense of call she sees herself as a "vessel
through which God's grace is imparted to people and to the world." Her sense of call is
to be a "coach, encourager, a vision bearer, to walk with folks during difficult times."
She believes that she is called to have a pastor's heart, a keen intellect, and to speak truth
Sandye felt that before she began the process she needed to have work experience
in the secular world and to be able to contextualize the experience. Her secular
experiences included work as a corporate lending officer, a micro-economist, and a
reporter and writer in business and economics. While living in New York City, she
became involved with the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. It was here that she
began her foray into parish ministry. After being accepted into the process and carefully
considering her seminary options, she chose to attend Union Theological Seminary. She
recalls that at the time there were two other students actively involved with the Office of
Black Episcopal Seminarians (OBES), Nelson Foxx and Michele Thornton. Kelly Brown
Douglas was to follow Sandye at Union.
She describes her ordination process as being good and fair. There were two
prayer book examinations that were part of her General Ordination Exam process, one for
the 1979 edition and the other for the 1929. She says, "They wanted to make sure that
people were up to snuff." Out of the twenty-eight people with whom she entered the
process, there were only three who made it through to ordination. The Bishops involved
with her formation were The Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, 38 The Rt. Rev. Walter Dennis, 39 and
The Rt. Rev. Harold L. Wright. 40 Sandye was the first African American woman
ordained in the Diocese of New York, in 1980.
She has been blessed with a myriad of mentors and people foremost in her
journey to ordained leadership: Pauli Murray, The Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, 41 and The
Rev. Jeffrey Cuffee, to name a few of her supporters. One of the stories she shares about
Pauli was that Sandye was teaching her how to sing mass before the Delta Sigma Theta
Boule. 42 Pauli practiced and practiced, and then on the day of the celebration of the
Eucharist, in her "Clark Wallaby shoes," she said, "Oh, hell I can't sing that." She spent
hours in conversation with Pauli, about God, life, poetry and friends. Sandye last spoke
with Pauli on June 30, 1985, before she passed away the next day.
The Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman was considered by Sandye and others to be a 20
century holy man. She describes him as a man of few words. She credits the Rev. A.
38 The Rt. Rev. Paul Moore (1919 - 2003), the 13 th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York
39 The Rt. Rev. Walter D. Dennis (1932 - 2003), Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of
New York, second African-American male to be consecrated bishop. Sandye remained in conversation with
Bishop Dennis for 25 years, no matter where they lived.
40 The Rt. Rev. Harold L. Wright, Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 1974-
41 The Rev. Dr Howard Thurman (1899 - 1981), Dean of Theology at the Chapels at Howard
University and Boston University. He was known as a black mystic. Thurman also served as spiritual
advisor to Pauli Murray.
42 Delta Sigma Theta Boule, AS®, is a Greek-lettered sorority of college educated woman who
perform public service and place emphasis on the African-American community. They were founded at
Howard University, Washington, DC on January 13, 1915. Boule is the regulating institution of the
sorority and meets every two years.
Jeffrey Cuffee Jr. with teaching her how to be a priest, to make the needs of others
paramount. His words to her were, "be by being."
Her first position was as a curate at Grace Episcopal Church in White Plains, NY.
She recalls the services like this: "It was a salt shaker at the 8:00, pepper at the 9:15, salt
and a bit of pepper at the 10:30, and hot sauce at the 12:30." To Sandye it was a joy to do
ministry. She was active in mission and outreach, reaching out to those in prisons and in
Sandye was called to be rector of St. Mark's Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut,
in 1982, becoming the first African American female to be the rector of a parish. Almost
simultaneously she began to combine her parish ministry with her love of academia,
holding parallel positions on the faculty of institutions of higher education. She sums up
her ministry by saying, "[My ministry] is to help others discover their gifts, to celebrate
their gifts and for me to then move on."
"Great" is the word she used to describe being part of the first group of African
American female priests. She further describes the sisterhood of female priests as
providing a deep rooted sense of commitment, support, and the comfort of having women
praying for each other's safety, health and ministry.
While the joys in her ministry are bounteous, a few are extraordinary, inspiring,
and indelibly etched on one's memory, such as seeing people fall in love and be involved
with God, witnessing people's perseverance in their spiritual development, the dazzle in
their eyes when they know they are in tune with goodness and divine grace. Perceiving
when people are able to recognize Christ in one another, and realizing "what we do and
what we say makes a difference in the community."
"We have a unique opportunity" she affirms "To bring a lived hermeneutic to
what we say and do as priest of African American heritage." She believes that female
clergy of African heritage have an opportunity to set an example for young women
regarding dress, attitude, speech and style. African American women represent their
race, and the heritage of the women who came before them and those who will follow.
Sandye believes that music is the universal language that embodies how women
of African heritage "do church." We draw on music "from a variety of sources with a
message to come and see" and "run and tell." Feeding people on all levels and
developing a connection with God are key components in her ministry. "Overworked
overachievers" and "natural born leaders" are words that she uses to describe women of
African heritage working in ministry.
What keeps Sandye spiritually centered in her life is daily morning and evening
prayers, visits to Iona, and the singing and chanting of a Taize service. She enjoys
talking on the phone and reads regularly. Her support comes from the touchstones of her
life, good friends and colleagues.
When asked about her relationship with Black male clergy in the Diocese of
Newark, she says that it is "generally good because I do all the work." She believes that
the Christ in her needs to meet the Christ in them."
Her encounters with racism, sexism and other "isms" are on a daily encounter.
She continues, "People are scared of you, because they think you have too much power."
If you have "corporate memory" then you are scary. She concludes by saying that
"people are scared of power."
After twenty-nine years in ministry the advice she would like to pass on is, "be
yourself, be happy and proud of who you are. God don't make no junk! You are a gift to
God and to the church." She then recall, some advice given to her by Bishop Paul
Moore: "remember to keep priorities straight, first is family, second is your prayer life
and third is to the ministry, and never get comfortable in your ministry." She continues
"everyone has a gift, celebrate those gifts." "Your responsibility is to help others
discover their gifts. She said, to quote Bishop Barbara, "It is better to be loving than to
The Rt. Rev. Gayle Elizabeth Harris
"I am a priest not by putting on the collar. I am a priest by putting on the cross." 43
I recall that June 1, 2000 was sunny and seasonably cool, a perfect day for the
election of a new Suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Massachusetts. A number of
students, including myself, were attending a Congregational Studies workshop at
Episcopal Divinity School. We had been staying abreast of the slate of candidates and
the balloting. Names had been swirling around since Bishop Barbara had announced her
retirement. Emails had been sent regarding who would have their names placed in
nomination and who shouldn't. Even before Barbara's announcement was made formal,
the name of Gayle Harris from Rochester, New York was on the tip of most everybody's
tongue as Massachusetts' next Bishop Suffragan. As the election began one of my
classmates had her cell phone with her and kept receiving phone calls from convention
regarding the voting results. It was during our afternoon break that we received word that
Gayle had been elected on the second ballot.
Gayle' s consecration was held at Trinity Church, Copley Square, on January 18,
2003, one of the coldest days of that winter. I was sitting near the front in the pews that
were reserved for members of the Union of Black Episcopalians. Although the weather
was brutally cold, the service was filled with the warmth of the spirit. The party
afterwards included a myriad of black bishops, clergy and laity, some of whom I had not
seen from my childhood days at Grace Episcopal Church in Detroit.
43 Gayle E. Harris, interview by author, Cambridge, MA. September 17, 2009.
Gayle's roots are solidly Midwestern. She was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but the
family moved to Chicago, Illinois when she was young. Her religious upbringing was
between her mother's Baptist church and her father's United Methodist church. She also
spent time in the Episcopal church as well as the Presbyterian church with her cousins.
At the age of 14, when given a choice into which denomination she would like to be
baptized, she choose the Presbyterian Church. It was at Chatham United Presbyterian
Church in Chicago that she preached her first sermon.
It was in 1973, during her undergraduate years at Lewis & Clark College in
Portland, Oregon, that she joined the Episcopal Church. She recalls that 1975 was an
exciting time in the church, with women's ordination on the agenda at the General
Convention. It was during this time that she says she received the call to ordained
ministry. Originally, she had set her eyes on becoming a permanent deacon. However,
her vicar at Holy Cross Chapel asked her, "Why would you limit yourself." That same
night God spoke to her and said that she was called to be His priest. The Bishop of
Chicago, James Montgomery, posed a question to her. He asked, what she would do if
General Convention did not approve the ordination of women. Gayle responded: "it's
going to happen." She still ran away from the call for another two years, but God spoke
to her impatiently one evening, as she was driving in Chicago. She answered, "ok Lord",
and knew then she had to get serious.
After acceptance into the process, Gayle attended Church Divinity School of the
Pacific (CDSP). She was the first African American to be admitted and the second
African American to attend in ten years. She appreciated the theological education and
the diversity of denominations that were represented at the seminary. She appreciated
CDSP treating students as though they already had a ministry and were being called to
another level. At the time, Bishop John Walker was serving on the Board of Trustees at
CDSP; he was able to provide her with a pastoral presence. She recalls the "twinkle in
his eye" and "an all knowing look" when they first met.
When Gayle made visits home she would meet with Bishop James Montgomery.
However it was Bishop Quentin Primo, who really was her spiritual guide during her
process. He was her mentor in many ways, telling her what to do and what not to do. He
kept reminding her that because she was a black woman she had to be twice as good as
everyone else. He gave her advice on what to read, how to carry herself, who to make
contact with, and what kind of events she should attend. He became more of a parish
priest to her.
Her final interview for the diaconate took place in the spring of 1981. At that
time she was informed that the committee had given her an ordination date of June 19 th .
She was to have her own ordination and would not be ordained in the Cathedral on June
5 with her male candidates. Her ordination was to take place in her home parish. When
she asked if Bishop Primo could ordain her, Bishop Montgomery said to her with great
patience, "This will be the only opportunity that I will be able to lay hands on you and I
want to say I laid hands on you. Now let's talk about what diocese will you be going to
get a job?"
Looking back she understood his reasoning. She would have been a bit of a
problem to place in a position. Male black clergy were against women's ordination.
Black men served black churches and white men served white church and there was no
mixing of the races.
She left for the Diocese of Newark, two days after her ordination to the deaconate.
She had accepted a position as curate at Grace Van Borst, in Jersey City. Once again
Gayle was not permitted to be ordained to the priesthood with the other men. Bishop
John Shelby Spong ordained Gayle in February of 1982. It was then Rev. Chet Talton
who preached at her ordination. She remembers him saying, "I wish I were you Gayle, I
wish I were you, young, gifted, black and female." She recalls that people were in shock
and disbelief. But he also said, "enjoy this night, enjoy this night Gayle because once
you are priested, you will be entering the belly of the beast of racism." He said it so
strongly that Bishop Spong had to give a second sermon during the offertory.
Although conditions were less than ideal in Jersey City, Gayle flourished in her
ministry. She was pastor of a parish whose congregation consisted of drug addicts,
people receiving government assistance, and a few professionals. It was a parish that had
been very involved in social justice ministry but had fallen on hard times. She was able
to take her ministry into the streets of Jersey City, where she was known as Father Gayle.
With her ministry developed and grounded in community works, she became the
assistant and urban resident at St. Phillips the Evangelist in Washington, D.C. The parish
was known for its outreach, its sense of fellowship, and for some of the best music in the
black worship tradition. She went from there to become Priest-in-Charge at Holy
Communion Church. Once again she was a viable presence in the community,
welcoming people in to the church. The church serves today as the Bishop John T.
Walker School for Boys.
Her first call as a rector was to the newly merged parish of St. Luke's and St.
Simon in Rochester, New York. St. Luke's Parish was the mother church in Rochester.
Founded by Col. Rochester, it had the building and the money, but a dying congregation.
St. Simon of Cymene was founded by blacks who had moved North after World War I
and they had the people. Her job was to make the congregation function as one. She
thought it would be the parish from which she could retired. She found joy in this parish
and the journey that they shared together. It was from her garden in Rochester that she
received the call from Bishop M. Thomas Shaw III, that she had been elected Bishop
"A self sustaining community of sisters," is how Gayle describes being part of the
first class of ordained African American women. She recalls that most of the women
came from the northeast corridor: Sandye from New York, Pauli from Baltimore and
Washington D.C., Norma was in Washington, D.C., Mary and Barbara from Philadelphia
and Anne and Nan from New York. They were always just a sister away from each
other. They shared a concern that other sisters of African heritage would not being lifted
up to ordained ministry. It felt as though it would be a long time before getting past the
Gayle's greatest joy is being part of TEC. She is so proud of and nurtured by the
church. She believes that it is through our Baptismal covenant that we understand that
we are first Christians, second Episcopalians, and that we live in the diversity of that
understanding. Some of the frustration she feels is when she sees people who do not
"respect the dignity of every human being," in seeking and finding Christ in every
person. She believes that we have more in common than not: "Our holiness is not based
on what we do or don't do; it is based on God's presence. I cannot see God walking away
from any of us, if we are willing to walk with God and each other."
Still, she experiences times of racism and sexism: "Our church reflects our society
and our society reflects our church. We black women are admired for our strength, but at
times this can become offensive to others. We don't know our place when we try to
assume our full leadership in this church. It is fine to admire Oprah and Michelle Obama,
from afar. It would be different if they put on vestments and called themselves your priest
The people who were foremost in Gayle's journey are and have been the best of
the best of black male clergy. She was lucky enough to experience the Union of Black
Episcopalians at its best. During the 1980's, UBE was politically astute, theologically
grounded and strategic in understanding its mission. She has kept company with some of
the best clergy of African heritage in the church, Bishop Chet Talton, Bishop Frank
Turner, Rev. Herald Lewis, Rev. Joe Green, and Bishop Barbara Harris. Among the laity
she remembers the late Mattie Hawkins, who she called the backbone of UBE, the lay
people of Holy Cross Chapel, and her cousin Jane Harris Logan.
She feels her sense of call from the time she wakes up until she goes to sleep.
When asked would she be happy, content or satisfied doing anything else, she said no.
Even when being a priest can be frustrating, demanding and stressful, it is always full of
grace. She would not be complete in her being if she wasn't a priest. "It is not about
putting on the collar, it is about putting on the cross. The collar comes after the cross."
She says that this is the way she gets dressed in the morning. "People can sometimes get
confused with symbols and positions, but we are called because it is part of our being."
The list would be exhaustive if I were to name all of the groups that Gayle has
been involved in. She is serving on the CREDO board, the National Church Theology
Committee, and has recently stepped down as the Vice-Chairperson of the Church
Pension Fund. She has served on standing committees, bishop search committees, and as
deputy to General Convention, to name just a few of her contributions and involvements.
The words she passes on to women of African descent are to "remember that you
are a child of God, precious and beloved, lay or ordained and no one can take it away.
Let joy abound and strength be nourished." The last is "no matter what, God loves you
and there is nothing that anyone else can do about it. God loves you and will always love
The Rev. Canon Nan Arrington Peete
"The Kingdom is not here yet." 44
"Women of African heritage are more grounded in the gospel of Jesus. We know
in the deepest part of our soul that we are a beloved child of God. The people of God
help us to believe it. The unconditional love we have we want to share without bounds."
This quote from Nan Peete describes women of African heritage are engaged in the work
of the church.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Nan remembers that her earliest memory of her
religious and spiritual upbringing was influenced by her grandmother, Clanton. After
high school she married and had two children. The family then relocated to Los Angeles.
Her first encounter with the Episcopal Church in Los Angeles was after she saw the 1 963
cover of Ebony magazine featuring the singer, Nat King Cole and his family. The article
mentioned that they attended St. James Episcopal Church on Wilshire Boulevard. She
arrived at the church and recalls a frosty reception from even the black members of the
congregation. After that experience the family began attending St. John's, located in
downtown Los Angeles, which was later to be her sponsoring parish. The parish was
active in issues of social and political justice. She recalls that the parish kept its front
doors locked in opposition to the draft. It also ran a draft counseling center and provided
a great deal of outreach to the community it served. Nan was extremely active in the
44 Nan Arrington Peete, interview by author, September 25, 2009.
parish while pursuing both her B.A. in economics and M.A. in human resource
Her call to the ordained priesthood came to her while listening to a Sunday
sermon at her parish. She said to herself, "I should be up there preaching," to which she
answered, "I don't think so" followed by, "Why not me?" When she went to dinner with
her husband, Robert, and shared her thoughts, he responded by saying "Now you'll get
paid for what you do for free." She than began the ordination process, becoming the first
African- American female to be ordained in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She recalls
when Barbara Harris had spent some time in conversation with her talking about the
ordination process. With two high school age children, she could not uproot her family.
Her seminary education began at Bloy House, a seminary program of the Diocese of Los
Angeles, which caters to commuting students. She still maintained a full-time job as a
management consultant with Coopers and Lybrand accounting firm. In 1982, after her
children left for college, she enrolled in General Theological Seminary (GTS) for her last
While GTS was not her first choice, she loved seminary. Here she had the chance
to shape and form her spiritual connection. When she arrived at GTS she recalls that
"there was still controversy over women seminarians and priests." 45 During her time at
General Theological Seminary, Nan and Ann Holmes Redding became close friends.
Both black and white classmates were not completely embracing of either Nan or Ann.
Quoted in A Historical Overview of the Presence and Experience of the African Diaspora at the
General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church. Thesis for the degree of Master of Divinity,
Robert Jermonde Taylor, May 20, 2009, 41.
When she went to investigate her field education setting, she knew that there were "many
black male priests in Manhattan who did not accept women seminarians or priests." 46
She found a mentor and teacher in the Rev. Canon Frederick B. Williams (GTS 1963). 47
Canon Williams was serving as rector of Church of the intercession on 155 th Street in
Manhattan. He was considered an excellent field education supervisor and mentor to
black female seminarians. Another one of Canon Williams' seminarians during this time
was Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, who was attending Union Theological Seminary at
the same time. One of her more memorable experiences was at a community meeting at
GTS when the topic of inclusive language in worship was raised. She remembers
walking outside the seminary after the discussion and being called all sorts of names:
"Inside the seminary, my gender and race were not represented and God was always he.
When we tell our stories in the context of scripture and reality, it makes an impact on
people." Under Nan's influence GTS adopted an inclusive language policy.
She recalls fondly the people who have been her mentors along the way like
Barbara Harris who believed in her and supported her during her process and her move
into ordained ministry. Nan was ordained in 1 984. Barbara Harris preached at her
ordination. Her first position was as a curate at St. Mark's church in Upland, California.
A 700 member parish, inclusive of its four black members. After a year at St. Mark's she
was called to become rector of All Saints Church in Indianapolis. It was at All Saints that
her ministry soared. She recounts to Mary S. Donovan in her book Women Priests in the
46 Taylor, 41.
47 The Rev. Canon Frederick Boyd Williams, (April 23, 1939 - April 4, 2008).
48 Dr. Brown-Douglas is the Director of the Religion Program at Goucher College, Baltimore,
All Saints draws members from throughout the city. "The
congregation represents the broad spectrum of the body of
Christ," said Peete. "We have relatively few children, several
families, many singles - it's about thirty percent black. Many
people have been surprised that a high-church parish would
call a women priest All Saints parish has a true
sense of what Catholicism means in terms of being universal
and accepting of people. 49
She hit the ground running at All Saints, serving as administrator for the Parish's
outreach program as well as providing to the pastoral needs of her congregation.
It was during this time that she was invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury,
Robert Alexander Kennedy Runcie, to serve as the first ordained woman to address the
1988 Lambeth Conference. The Archbishop had appointed her as a consultant to the
conference. In that role she addressed all of the bishops of the Anglican Communion on
the feast of Mary Magdalene (July 22) in a program carried on closed circuit television.
She was also a speaker at the pre-Lambeth meeting in Cambridge of the Afro-Anglican
The Rt. Rev. Frank Kellogg Allan asked her to consider the position as Canon to
the Ordinary in the Diocese of Atlanta after becoming aware of her work. 50 In her
discernment she felt at this time that she had been called to serve on a Bishop's staff. She
accepted the position in 1989, despite protests from within the Diocese. While Bishop
Allan was very supportive of women's ordination he was less so when it came to matters
of the inclusion of gay and lesbian clergy. By the end of her time on the Diocesan staff in
49 Mary S. Donovan, Women Priests in the Episcopal Church (Forward Movement Publication,
Cincinnati, Ohio, 1988) 142.
50 Bishop Allan, 8 th Bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta, 1987 - 1989.
1994, because of her ministry, Bishop Allan would become an ally. She considers
Atlanta, where she had to deal face to face with issues of racism and sexism, to be the
hardest position that she has held. However, she believes the Diocese is not the same,
and is more inclusive in areas of race and culture because of her ministry.
She was called to Trinity Church on Wall Street in 1 994 by The Rt. Rev. Herbert
A. Donovan, Jr. to be the Associate for Pastoral Care and Outreach. 51 At a church known
for its diversity of worship and attendance, she bridged the spectrum of a parish of
wealthy patronage on the weekdays and a parish of color on Sundays. Jennifer
Baskerville-Burrows remembers Nan as a beacon of light and support to black
What a blessing she received when she was called in 1999, by the late Rt. Rev.
Herbert Thompson to be the Canon for Ministry in the Diocese of Ohio. Here she was
responsible for the ordination process, clergy deployment, and the congregational search
process. From there she accepted a call to serve as Canon for Clergy Deployment and
Ordination in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. She notes that she has held the same
position three times with different titles.
Nan has retired from the Diocese of Washington but is still serving as a national
consultant for parishes. Her other retirement position is working at Holy Communion
Parish in Washington, DC.
51 Bishop Donovan had served as the 1 1 th Bishop of Arkansas from 1981 - 1993. He was called as
vicar in 1993 and served until 1997.
,2 Bishop Thompson, (1932-2006) served as the 8 th Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio from
She did not think about being part of the first group of African American women
to be ordained in the Episcopal Church as the time it was happening but she reflects,
"Barbara Harris, Gayle Harris, Ann Holmes Redding and Sandye Wilson and I were
bonded together to form a community." She recalls that black male clergy were not
supportive of them at a Black Clergy Conference that was held in Ocean City in 1987.
The treatment continued at the Afro- Am Conference that was held in Barbados when a
group spoke out against women priests with Barbara Harris sitting on the panel. It was
the late Bishop Walter Dennis who to that opposition affirming the ministry of women.
Other supporters would include Rev. Kwasi Thornell, Rev. Cn. Fred Williams, and
Bishop. Frank Turner and Rev. Cn. Harold Lewis.
Because of the amazing support she has received from clergy and friends during
her ministry, she passes these words on to women in the process, "not to be a lone ranger,
develop a support system, and do not get caught up in the negative and to always find
joy." As a woman priest she feels that we are called to "love ourselves as we are." A
reminder she shares is that "just because we have a woman Presiding Bishop doesn't
mean that the 'isms' are done." She is kept grounded and centered by friends in and
outside the church, her telephone and an avid interest in professional sports teams.
Finally she says "The kingdom is not here yet."
Bishop Walter Decoster Dennis (1932-2003), Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of
New York, 1979-1998. The second African American in the Diocese to hold post and the 19 th Black
Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
Chapter II: Colleagues
The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville Burrows
"Can You Break Through the Ceiling?" 54
The assumption that female clergy of African heritage by the virtue of their color
automatically make them the best candidates for positions in the black church needs to be
eliminated. The life experiences of my colleagues have been eclectic, by virtue of the
necessity to function in a multi- cultural, multiethnic and multiracial society and the
world. We find comfort, security, and naturalness in whatever group we find ourselves.
These stories shed some light on what this new generation of ministry in TEC is
"There are jobs or churches that I applied to that I didn't get considered
for," she said. "But when I see some of my friends who are white males
who have the same difficulty in getting those level jobs, then I go, 'It's
all about what's the right fit.'"
Despite her popularity at Grace Church and in the Central New York
area, Baskerville-Burrows does not doubt that one day she may hit a
glass ceiling because of her race. She does encounter the occasional
"I had this one person say to me, 'well, I want to talk to you about urban
ministry," Baskerville-Burrows said. "I was like, 'I don't know about
urban ministry. I just got here! I'm going to be doing urban ministry, but
just because I'm black doesn't mean I've done it. I've been in wealthy
churches the whole time. I don't know anything about poverty."
Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, interview by author, September 28, 2009.
"Female Priest 's Views Differ from Mainstream Christian Values ", Miyoko Ohtake,The Daily
Orange, January 15, 2007. www.dailyorange.com (accessed October 17, 2009).
In the pecking order of women of African heritage working in all white
congregations, we would all agree that Jennifer is our trailblazer. I heard of Jennifer's
ministry at St. Peter's in Morristown, New Jersey, and in the wider church when I was
wrestling with my own call to ministry in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. 56
Jennifer came to The Episcopal Church after she graduated from college with a
concentration in architecture and historic preservation. Moving to New York City she
joined Trinity Church Wall Street. It was there she met The Rev. Canon Lloyd S.
Casson. She was drawn at this time to the environmental work that was being done at
Trinity. She recalls a conversation with God in which God said "You can combine
religion, architecture and art." It was also at this time that she met and was mentored by
Rev. Nan Arrington Peete, who was on the Trinity staff. Jennifer recalls that Nan was a
mentor to her providing pastoral counseling and her wisdom and advice. Jennifer was
honored since she had thought to herself that "the great Nan Peete surely would not have
time for me." Choosing to return to graduate school Jennifer was accepted to Cornell
University, and commuting to New York City proved to be challenging. She transferred
her membership to the Episcopal Church at Cornell University. She was accepted into
the process in 1994 and that Fall began her seminary training at Church Divinity School
of the Pacific. She was ordained as a Deacon in June 1997 and to the Priesthood in
56 Jennifer has been involved on the Commission on the Status of Women, Episcopal Women's
Caucus, Deputy at the 2006 and 2009 General Convention, Council of Advice for the President of the
House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson
Her first position was serving as an Associate at St. Paul's in Endicott, New York.
She recalls that the town was where IBM was founded, but at that time it was a dying
industrial town. There were four African- Americans including herself in a congregation
of 150. They were "Anglo-Catholic in a low belly church building." This proved to be
an isolating and lonely experience. She spent her time taking on some historic
preservation work, gardening and piano lessons. Although there was a 30 year age
difference between her and the rector, she recalls that he became her mentor. Class
differences played a larger part of the picture than race. She remained at this position for
a year and a half.
She left St. Paul's to become Associate Rector at St. Peter's in Morristown, New
Jersey. The Rev. Zachary Fleetwood created a position tailored to what she wanted:
Christian Formation, youth, women's ministry. She recalls being the "only" when she
arrived; the only woman of color on staff, the only woman of color in the Diocese of
Newark. The cultural divides were huge and it was difficult for her to have a
conversation sometimes with her male clergy of color. Jennifer was serving at St. Peter's
when September 1 1 happened. There were a number of parishioners that were lost and
she recalls that the situation "was tough and a lot of work." She knew that CDSP was
looking for a Director of Alumni and Church Relations; she applied and accepted the
position in 2002. She also served as the Pastoral Associate at All Saint's, San Francisco.
Realizing that she was more an east coast than west coast person, she welcomed
an opportunity that was presented for her to move east again. In December of 2003 for
her to become the part-time rector at Grace Church, and part-time chaplain at Hendrick's
Chapel at Syracuse University. Grace is a racially diverse church known for its history of
social activism. The work she is currently engaged in allows her to express her greatest
joys, "walking with people as they dig into their spiritual life." She says "It is the young
people that are bringing life to the parish." Her challenge is being a half-time priest at
both places. She notes that being half-time makes getting things done a lot slower. She
notes that because she had moved much in her ministry she feels a call to stay at Grace
for a while.
Her spiritual practices involve daily prayer that looks different every day, yoga,
and spiritual direction. Support resources include friends and colleagues, women's
clergy groups, visioning and managing change with her Congregational Development
Coach, and attending spiritual retreats.
The wisdom that she would like to pass on to women of African heritage in the
process would be to be savvy and authentic. She believes that church, while being well-
intentioned can also be fickle. She also stresses that it is important to have a council of
advisors, and friends whom you can go to for anything, to laugh, to cry and to celebrate.
7 The Rev. David Pendleton Oakerhater was baptized and deaconed at Grace. He is the first
Native American saint in the Episcopal Church.
The Rev. Monique Ellson
'God will do the work of transformation"
It is often said in TEC that we all know each other, or certainly know someone
who knows someone. This is certainly the case with Monique and I. Our paths and mine
have crossed a number of times and we had never met each other until her name was
recommended for this project. She was baptized by Rev Frederick Boyd Williams, while
he was serving as rector of St. Clements Episcopal Church, Inkster, Michigan. Her
mother served as the parish administrator. This meant that Monique went to church
every day during the summer. It was here that she became comfortable in church and
comfortable with clergy. Later the family transferred its membership to St. Matthews &
St. Joseph's Church in Detroit, Michigan, 5 where The Rev. Orris Walter was serving as
priest. 60 As a sports enthusiast Monique' s call to ordination followed coaching a really
bad volleyball match. She recalls it well: a voice said "Monique you will be a priest in
the church." She immediately called her mother and a good friend to assist her in making
some sense of this provocative and prophetic message.
Because of transitions that were occurring at St. Matthews & St. Josephs,
Monique was sponsored out of Christ Church, Detroit and chose to attend seminary at
Seabury Western in Evanston, Illinois. 61 In her MDiv program she was the only person
58 Monique Ellson, interview by author, October 8, 2009.
' 9 Established in 1845 St Matthews was the oldest African- American Episcopal parish in Detroit.
The church was closed and merged with St. Joseph's in 1971.
60 Rev Walker was later elected as the Bishop of Long Island.
61 In the fall of 2008 the seminary no longer matriculates students for the traditional Masters of
of any color. While the seminary did have a component of anti-racism training, it was
felt among the student body that it was more of a cursory guilt trip than a beneficial
process. After some conversation with both faculty and staff, Crossroads was brought
in to engage participants in a more substantive view of diversity, an invitation which
proved to be beneficial for the school. Nevertheless, the road to ordination she describes
as difficult. She remembers that she had very little contact with her Commission on
Ministry liaison. It wasn't a particularly prayerful time of discernment for her, most of
the time she felt that she was jumping through hoops just to stay ahead of the curve.
Monique's call to ordination never waned and she ordained in June of 2002.
Her first cure was as an assistant at St. Paul's Church in Lansing, Michigan.
While she was very pleased to be able to work with the rector, Rev. Gordon Weller, her
desire was to work in the city of Detroit. St. Paul's was a predominately white parish,
with a variety of outreach projects and programs. The parish was one of the first in the
Diocese of Michigan to establish a Sudanese education program for a number of young
men who had moved into the area. One of the challenges that she faced was of being true
to herself so that it was during this time that she came out as an lesbian. While it was a
time of liberation for her, she recalls that a number of people left the parish as a result.
Her next position was as the Assistant Rector at St. Peter's Episcopal Church,
located in the heart of Philadelphia's Society Hill area. She sees her ministry as a one on
one for God, where she is called to make disciples, and empower those people for the
work of ministry. In this she believes that the church should be composed of more than
The work of Crossroads is to dismantle systemic racism and build anti-racist multicultural
diversity within institutions and communities.
just the duties of a priest as it is outline in the Book of Common Prayers, it should be
seen as a working community. She recalls that it was difficult for her to "find her place"
at St Peters. After a period of discernment the parish and Monique amicably parted
Subsequently, Monique has moved to the Washington D.C. area. Her passion for
parish ministry she sees as a place for evangelism, church growth, and connection to the
community. She is currently serving as an Assisting Priest at the historical African-
American parish of St. Luke's in Washington D.C. She considers this time to be a
place of continued discernment, moving into a place where God is calling her to minister.
She is thankful for Rev. Virginia Nolan-Brown for giving her a place to take her hat off.
She is also thankful to The Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton 65 and his staff who have made a place
for her in the Diocese of Maryland. Some of her greatest joys are to sit across the table
with someone who loves God, but nobody knows it but them, or, to watch the members
of St. Luke's who are in their eighties connect with people in their twenties, and vice
Throughout this journey Monique has been guided by her spiritual director, great
friends and her key mentor The Rev. Bonny Perry, rector of All Saints, Chicago, Illinois.
It was under the tutelage of Rev. Perry that she recognized her passion for community
organizing and getting outside the parish walls to conduct one-on-one interviews.
63 St. Luke's is the first African-American parish established in Washington D.C. in 1873. The
Rev. Dr. Alexander Crommell was its first rector.
64 Rector, St. Luke's Episcopal Church
65 Bishop Sutton is the 14 th Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland and the thirty-ninth Black Bishop
in the Episcopal Church.
In her time as a priest she would see the unique experiences of women of African
heritage as being "unique", "We are called to be chameleon like; the dominant culture
expects us to meet them, not the other way around." "She feels that lately female priests
of African heritage are taking more and more positions in white congregations. Stories
are what she believes to be the cornerstone for how "we" do church. From her
community organizing experience it's that place of telling and listening to stories where
we find God working among us. Out of that conviction she says, "God will do the work
The Rev. Cheryl E. Parris
'May God grant you the grace to pray the Eucharist like it is your first time and your last
time, because it is." 66
This is one of the many tidbits of advice that The Rev. Cheryl Parris shared with
some new ordinands. After our interview, Cheryl and I now share a connection in our
ministry as women of African heritage. Cheryl, who is now part of my quilt pattern, had
also closely woven pieces of her life with the Rev. Dawn Baskerville-Burrows years
before. Cheryl states early that her process toward ministry was far from smooth.
Cheryl is a sixth generation Anglican/ Episcopalian from a family from Trinidad
and Tobago. She grew up at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church located at 127th and Fifth
Avenue in New York City. She later recalled that the parish was a major influence in her
life. She felt called to the priesthood at the age of eleven while in junior choir. In the
quietness of the upstairs pews of the neo-gothic church she would have real life
conversations with God. In one of the conversations she remembers the response, "I
want you to serve here."
By Cheryl's 18th birthday her rector at that time said that he felt that she was
called to ordained ministry. Then he said that because he did not believe in women's
ordination, she would not receive his support. As painful as this was, Cheryl left the
parish of her youth, and after some church shopping she landed at Trinity Church Wall
66 Cheryl Parris, interview by author, October 5, 2009. See the full list of Cheryl's suggestions at
the end of this section.
Cheryl, meet Jennifer at a Union of Black Episcopalians meeting and have been friends ever
since. Jennifer states "I wouldn't be a priest if it wasn't for Cheryl Parris"
Street. After realizing that the discernment process would not work out at Trinity, she
returned to St. Andrews. The rector had recently left in protest over Barbara Harris'
consecration. Starting the ordination process there anew she went before the
Commission on Ministry (COM) only to be told "not yet." In speaking with the late
Canon Frederick B. Williams, she recalled that he said that the COM didn't feel that she
paid enough respect to her elders and that was one of the detriments to her process.
After another few bumps in the road she was finally accepted into the process
and started at Bexley Hall at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. Nearing her
completion of her studies she remembers calling out to God, "I'll go where you want me
to go and I'll do what you want me to do." Soon after, she received a phone call from
Rev. James Snodgrass from St. Stephens, Olean, New York, who said "We want you to
work for us." Cheryl was ordained to the deaconate in 2002 and to the priesthood in
Olean, New York located 1 5 minutes from the Pennsylvania border, is a poor
rural community, which is heavily Roman Catholic. St. Andrew's was an all-white
parish. Cheryl recalls her success in opening the doors, breaking down barriers, and
inviting people into relationship with one another. While it was a hard work it was an
excellent experience. She recalls feeling that it was also lonely and isolating. She had left
behind a number of friends when she made the move to Olean.
After five years she decided to move on and accepted a call to become rector of
St. Matthew's Church in Savannah, GA. She arrived on the morning of August 1, 2007.
A woman drove up besides her and parked. Initially she thought the woman was there to
welcome her to her new ministry. Instead she produced identification as an IRS agent and
served the church with a bill for unpaid taxes. It took the first two years of her ministry to
work on settling accounts with the IRS. Her time in Savannah has been a wonderful
expression of her ministry and has also made her acutely aware of her New York,
northern roots. She is reminded that she's not only a Yankee, but also young at that.
There is an underlying tension that there is "nothing worse than a northerner knowing
your business." Through it all Cheryl has maintained her composure and her spirit has
never wavered in the time I have known her.
She credits this to her role models: The Rev. Sandye Wilson and The Rev. Janice
Robinson, whom Cheryl considers one of the most balanced priests that she knows.
Cheryl recalls that on a visit to GTS she had the honor of meeting Pauli Murray, whom
she didn't immediately recognize. Her support resources are her friends all over the
country, and her deanery colleagues.
Her challenges over the years have been the above mentioned loneliness and
isolation. She is aware that her mouth sometimes gets her into hot spots. As a woman of
African heritage she is aware that while she is listened to, she is also ignored because she
is different. She relies heavily on her support group of friends since she is the first
woman of African heritage in the Diocese of Georgia. She has chosen to spend this time
in Savannah figuring out where to devote her energy, to prioritize goals and objectives
and to bring parish programs in line with the budget and outreach endeavors. The joys in
her life are just being faithful and finding joy in any situation. She credits herself with
being a person of resilience, fidelity and perseverance. She has written a letter to newly
ordained clergy which I have included below, in which passes on some of her sage
Hello from St. Matthew's, Savannah. I wish you all of the best as you enter this new
phase of ministry... "What advice should one share with ordinands you don't know?"
Well, all I can do is share with you some of the things that may be helpful in your
ministry, based on my ministry.
On one hand I wished I spent more time as a Deacon. On the other hand I was so
thrilled and feared that people would change their mind, so I accepted the date!
Do have a more intentional prayer life. Memorize as many prayers as possible. I've
had to stumble into discipline.
Do realize the loneliness and isolation of ministry. This is true single or married. You
may find that you are left out in the cold, directionless even though the canons say that
you are to have a mentor. No matter, find your own mentors, even if they are in books.
Do read A New Beginning for Pastors and Congregations: Building an Excellent Match
Upon Your Shared Strengths (A Jossey Bass title) by Kennon L. Callahan and the
Manual of Business Practices (from 815) before taking that parish.
Do know that really and truly, a church system cannot handle more than 20% change at
a time. Really.
I wish that the clergy adage "Be careful of the first people who become your fast
friends in a Church" were not true, but it was for me.
Be careful in contract negotiations. Forget the Diocese, compare your contract with
your seminary colleagues, have a lawyer and clergy you trust review things before you
sign. Make sure that they give you a cell phone.
Never give out your personal e-mail. Create one right now for church business.
Keep a journal. It will comfort you and prove to be a source of documentation.
May God grant you the grace to pray the Eucharist like it is your first time and your last
time, because it is.
Sent to author via email October 6, 2009.
The Rev. Mpho Tutu
'God hasn't wandered off yet" 69
The Rev. Mpho Tutu was born in London, England, and was educated in England,
South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and the United States. Her early life as an Anglican
was spent between England and South Africa. She remembers her father Anglican
Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu of Cape Town, teaching in a number of multi-racial
and multi-denominational seminaries and universities in South Africa. She remembers
that one of the universities was closed by the apartheid government for its mixing of the
races. Her early life was one in which she herself mixed with people of all races, while
living under the rules of strict segregation of South Africa. She remembers thinking that
she was living in a weird context. On the one hand she was living and interacting with
people in a diverse community, while on another level trips to see her grandparents threw
her into the stark reality of living under an apartheid government.
Since she grew up as a "preacher's kid", becoming a priest was not high on her
list of possible careers. Most of the time she tried to avoid the call to ordained ministry.
She was constantly running in the opposite direction. It was her college chaplain at
Howard University, Nat Porter who said to her "you would make a wonderful priest."
She describes it like Jonah going to Nineveh. After leaving Howard she moved to New
York City, where she administered her father's scholarship fund. After her marriage she
moved to the Worchester, Massachusetts area. She began attending All Saints Episcopal
>9 Mpho Tutu, interview by author, September 30, 2009.
Church and became actively involved with the Education for Ministry Program (EFM).
Here she realized that she could run no more. She recalls telling herself that there was
the possibility that the Diocese of Western Massachusetts could say no and then she
could continue on with her life.
Her ordination process was slow to start. The illness and death of her bishop
meant that the incoming bishop placed the ordination process on hold. Since the
incoming bishop was her former spiritual director, she also had to find new spiritual
guidance. The waiting proved to be beneficial, since her father had been diagnosed with
prostate cancer, and she wanted to spend time with him.
I met Mpho when we were in the incoming class of 1999 at Episcopal Divinity
School. She remembers the seminary experience as a time of entering into a deep
conversation with God. She loved EDS because she didn't have to live on campus and
she could be present when she knew things deserved her time. This gave her time to be
with her husband and daughter. She credits the work of the EDS Anti-Racism
commitment and the way its work and foundations still serve in her ministry today.
During her third year at seminary she spent a year attending the College of the
Transfiguration (COT) in Grahamstown, South Africa. She recalls that being a woman
there was an interesting experience. The male seminarians were not quite sure how to
relate to a female with family in the ordination process. The other women who attended
COT were either single or were there without their husbands. She was the only woman
with a husband on campus and the question was continuously asked: "What is your
husband going to do?"
After graduation from Episcopal Divinity School, Mpho was accepted as a Clergy
Resident in the Lilly Foundation program at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria,
Virginia. She was ordained a deacon in 2002 and priested in 2003. Christ Church is an
historic parish located in Alexandria's Old Town. Mpho describes the parish as "being as
white as you can get." She related two stories to me that occurred at the parish. In one
incident while with her daughter she was at yelled at in the courtyard by a man who said
"That's why we cannot get jobs", which to her implied that a women of African heritage
could get a job while a white man could not. In a second incident she noted that the
reason she always wore her collar at work was so that she would not have to through the
trouble of trying to explain to people who she was. She recalls that the experience was at
times isolating. Her saving grace was that she wasn't centered at Christ Church. She
had a ministry beyond with her worldwide speaking and preaching engagements.
After the two-year program ended at Christ Church, she began her own non-profit
organization, The Tutu Institute of Prayer and Pilgrimage, whose mission is "to support
and enrich the spiritual journeys by offering opportunities for people to experience the
world as recipients of God's loving grace." She is not quite sure what direction the
institute will take in the future. At this time of the writing she is currently on tour with
her father promoting Made for Goodness a book that they co-authored. Mpho considers
herself multi-vocational as a wife, mother and a priest and is figuring out how to integrate
it all together. She currently worships at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Washington
DC. The parish offers a place where her two daughters have a place to experience God's
presence through spiritual formation. If that means she doesn't get to serve on the altar,
she is comfortable with that decision.
She is keeping centered with a life of prayer life that includes: Morning Prayer,
running as a form of meditation, Sunday Eucharist and family prayers with her husband
and children. At some point during her day she will always stop and turn her awareness
to God's presence. She is supported by her husband, parents and sister clergy.
The advice she has to pass along would be advice that was passed down to her: "If
you find a congregation and Bishop that supports you don't move," and "Find other
people in the process who will support you, laugh, giggle, cry with you. You will need
them now and later."
The Rev. Paula Clark Green
'Be open to God's call in strange places"
Probably the first words uttered by The Rev. Paula Clark Green was "integration."
A native of Washington D.C., she was born into the Baptist Church. When her parents
and others tried to integrate the all-white Baptist church the results were less than
favorable. The result was the creation of The Fellowship of the Free, which would meet
in the basement of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church. The Fellowship of the Free was
comprised of black and white parishioners working together on issues of social justice.
This seed was planted early in Paula's life. Paula recalls that she and her sister
eventually made it from the basement into the sanctuary. In addition to her parents' work
of social justice, her family was the first family to integrate their street in D.C.
She attended the National Cathedral School. It was during her time here that
The Rev. Jacqueline Means came to speak and she remembers that it had a great impact
on her. It was while sitting in the National Cathedral at the age of 12-13 that she felt
the call to ordained ministry. She feels that her sense of call is still being formed,
especially the call to be a parish priest.
After accepted into the process, she chose to attend Virginia Theological
Seminary (VTS), which by her description was at a "kairos period." A period that was
right and opportune. It was a period when people were openly taking about issues of
71 Paula Clark Green, interview by author, October 14, 2009.
National Cathedral School, located in Washington D.C. is an independent day school for girls in
grades 4 through 12.
The Rev. Jacqueline Means was the first regularly ordained women in the Episcopal Church on
January 1, 1977.
race. Paula is interviewed in a book by The Rev. Joseph Constant, 74 in which she talks
about the low number of students of African heritage at VTS when she was attending.
She notes that currently the VTS student of color enrollment is roughly 20%.
Her view of the ordination process in the Diocese of Washington D.C. is a
positive one. The months of discernment in the parish were beneficial and prayerful in
her move towards parish ministry. As she says, she "entered into God's call, whatever
the call was ordained or not." She still considers her former rector at St. Timothy's, The
Rev. Canon Dalton Downs, as one of her mentors. She has and still relies on his advice
and his sound wisdom. Paula was ordained to the priesthood in January 2005.
Paula's first cure was as an Assistant at St. Patrick's Episcopal Church in
Washington D.C, an all-white parish. The parish's last member of color, who had long
since left the church, was in 1964. She recalls that although the rector and the search
committee knew she was African- American, for whatever reason, the parish did not. One
parishioner made the statement "You're Paula Green; you're an African- American
woman." Still the congregation welcomed and embraced her with open arms. She loved
the experience and the opportunity to thrive in the church environment and the St.
Patrick's community. Although the issue of race was present, she was loved for who she
Paula has recently been installed at the Rector at St. John's Episcopal/ Anglican
Church in Beltsville, Maryland. She is blessed to have her mentor Dalton Downs to
serve as Priest Associate. Paula loves being a priest here, and as she says, "is serving the
74 He is Director for Racial and Ethnic Ministries and Social Life at Virginia Theological
Seminary, and a VTS graduate.
people of God." The interplay with God's people on a daily basis is one of the things that
shapes and sustains her. She finds her current work in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial parish
Paula comments that being an African- American woman gives "us" access in
white circles that are seen as non-threatening. However, the challenge appears to be
within the African American church. Comments have been made to her that she is a
"sell-out" by not working in the Black Church. This has also caused some angst among
her Black Episcopal male colleagues. She notes that "many of us are in white parishes
because those are the parishes that have offered us jobs."
A self-described Gen-X'er, Paula preaches out of that context. She recalls serving
on a panel with The Rt. Rev. Nathan Baxter, and noticing that they were both using the
words and music of the negro spirituals in combination the words and music of hip-hop.
If there was a centering hymn in her life it would be "We Are Marching in the Light of
God" sung in all three languages. 76 She feels that she is called to bring the common
expression of God to her congregants and to be part of the wider church. This would
include relating to people on many levels. She recalls a funeral that she did which
incorporated both Muslim and Episcopal traditions, and a Yoruba naming service and,
"ability to bridge different experiences."
5 Bishop Baxter is the 10 th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. He is also the
thirty-ninth Bishop of African heritage consecrated in the Episcopal Church.
Horace Clarence Boyer, ed Lift Every Voice and Sing II: An African American Hymnal (New
York, Church Publishing Incorporated, 1993), #787.
The advice she would pass along to women of African heritage in the ordination
process would be: "Remain open to God's call in strange places, be true to who you are,
be honest about your identity and appreciate it, and to never give up your voice."
The Rev. Dr. Anne-Marie Jeffery
"The church needs your voice"
One of the first things Anne-Marie speaks about is her connection to other
ordained women who are an instrumental part of her ministry: Paula Green, Mpho Tutu,
Kim Baker and Robyn Franklin- Vaughan. The daughter of the late Rt. Rev. Alfred
Jeffery, her family spans four generations of Anglicans. " Not surprisingly her early
memories of church focus on the requirement of having to be there, and that the services
were long and boring. In the midst of all this she recalls being fascinated with the
Eucharist and could not wait to be confirmed. Growing up Anglican, many of the girls
expressed an interest in serving as an acolyte but were told such participation was
reserved for boys only. Anne-Marie petitioned her father, but he would not make an
As a "preacher's daughter" she had no idea that she was going to be called into
ministry. The call came while she was working as a physicist with the national
government in Maryland. She had been working with a seminarian in the ordination
process at her parish, and while reading through the ordination handbook something with
in her shook and she remembers feeling a "little off." It was with "fear and trembling"
and an "oh no" that she began the process towards ordination.
77 Anne-Marie Jeffery, interview by author, October 17, 2009.
78 Rev. Kim Baker serves as Chaplain at the Washington Cathedral School. Rev. Robyn-Franklin
Vaughan serves as Chaplain at Howard University.
The Rt. Rev. Alfred Jeffery served as Anglican Bishop of Antigua.
Soon after she was accepted into the process in the Diocese of Washington D.C.,
she attended Virginia Theological Seminary. Although describing the experience,
curriculum and instruction as enriching, she said, "I have never been more aware of being
black in my life." She saw first hand just how white the Episcopal church really was and
how blind the church could be to issues of racism. It was as a student at VTS that she
became and still remains close friends with Paula Green. She was ordained to the
priesthood in 2004.
Her first position was as an Assistant/Urban Missioner at Church of the Epiphany
which is located in downtown Washington D.C., a racially mixed parish with a
commitment to issues of social and economic justice. At Epiphany in 2004 that Anne-
Marie started Street Church, a worshipping community for the homeless. Street Church
is located three blocks from the White House in Franklin Square Park. It provides the
homeless with a place to worship, share community, connect, and get something to eat.
Anne-Marie says of her work with Street Church: "When you're homeless, I think that
people are always chasing you away. They are not looking at you. If you go and sit next
to [a homeless person], they'll start talking. You're sitting together; you're eating the
same thing. People are willing to let you sit with them and join with them, usually.'"
She credits her parish with presenting her with some wonderful ministerial experiences.
However, she knew that she would have to leave in order to live more fully into her
Street Church was inspired by the Boston-based program Ecclesia Ministries.
Episcopal Life Archive "Worship without Walls" by Lucy Chumbley, October 1 , 2006.
(accessed November 26, 2009).
Currently she is wearing three hats: serving as Priest in Charge of St. James's
Church in Bowie, MD, being co-leader in the proposed merger of two area parishes, St.
James's and St. George's, and serving as the Episcopal Chaplain at Bowie State
St. James's has been hit hard in this recession, which has tightened parishioners'
pockets and diminished the value of the church's endowment. The proposed merger has
been difficult but is seen as "the only viable option for the survival of St. James's", the
smaller parish with just 38 parishioners. The proposed merger melds together a white
parish (St. James's), and a parish that is described as an "eclectic, quirky, and collective
of straight and gay men and women of various races' (St. George's). Anne-Marie and the
Rev. Connie Reinhardt (rector of St. George's) are both focused on helping their
parishioners learn all they can from each other and adjust to the challenges that may lay
ahead. It is a lot of effort, but Anne-Marie says she feels "closer to her call."
With all that on her plate as the leader of a start-up church and a start-up
chaplaincy, she has had to learn to make intentional time for herself for prayer, spiritual
direction and being with friends. She has been sustained in her faith journey by some
wonderful mentors. She credits The Rev. Dr. Margaret McNaughton Ayers, Associate
Dean for Community Life, Ethnic Ministries and Admissions at Virginia Theological
Seminary who has been a wonderful presence in her life, and Rev. Karla Woggon, Rector
of Ascension Episcopal Church in Hickory, NC.
The other parish is St. George's has an average Sunday attendance of 70.
Her passions for her ministry are preaching and liturgy. She is blessed to be given
the opportunity at St. James's to look at language in liturgy and to lead workshops and
educational opportunities for people of all ages.
Her views and observations of being a woman of color serving in white parishes
run a wide gamut. She says, "As women of color we are loved more by a white
congregation." She notes that the racial pecking order for a black congregation calling a
new priest is: black men, white man, white woman and then black women. Like many of
her contemporaries, the support comes from other women in similar positions: "There are
not too many of us, so we are easy to find, but we are determined and special." The
advice she has to pass along is that "the black churches will not want you, do not be
surprised." Still "We have a lot to offer the church, the church needs our voice."
In this chapter it has been an honor to journey with my clergy sisters. While our
lives have taken a variety of paths to get to this point, we come together in a supportive
sisterhood much life the trailblazers who have gone before us. The concluding chapter
takes a look at the threads that bind us together and ways that the church can expand the
Reign of God in parish leadership.
Threads: A Conclusion in Progress
"I. . .am not contain' d
between my hat and my boots"
Walt Whitman. 83
"Hidden in Plain View: African American Episcopal Women's Histories", is the
title of a paper presented by Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett in 2004. She speaks to the
stories of African American women as being in plain sight. Quilts were a means of
communication between abolitionist and slaves in 19 century America. They were hung
in conspicuous places along the Underground Railroad and contained imbedded
messages. These quilts and their patterns gave directions to the next stop, the safe places
towards freedom. These first ordained women of African heritage have been making
spiritual and pastoral quilts for other ordained women of African heritage to follow.
Sometimes these directions were hidden in plain view for those of us who were to follow
in ordained leadership. In this section are a number of quotes that represent a composite
portrait of the women whom I have interviewed, although they are not identified by
Walt Whitman as cited in Pauli Murray, Dark Testament and other Poems, (CT,
84 Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett, "Hidden in Plain View: African America Episcopal Women's
Histories," (lecture, Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA, February 24, 2005)
"Though black Episcopalians fully share the traditions and the liturgy of the
Episcopal Church, we bring to that heritage a very different social history." The writer
of this quote, Marjorie Nichols Farmer, maintains that the story of Episcopal women of
African heritages begins in Philadelphia at the historic St. Thomas' Church where in
1 974 eleven women were irregularly ordained to the priesthood.
I disagree, however with Farmer's timeline. The stories of women of African
heritage in TEC were formed long before Philadelphia. I know personally, as an African
American woman that I can go back generations to the stories of witness from my
mother, grandmothers, aunts, the Mama Knox's and Mama Johnson's. Their priestly
presence has a profound influence in my life.
With Pauli Murray being ordained in January of 1977, and the last of us in this
study being ordained in 2003, we have 28 years of sacred stories to share and many
threads that have passed through each generation. In this analysis of threads I am
cognizant of the missing middle generation of women of African heritage which would
include the years 1986 - 1996. I am operating under the assumption that the threads that
tie the first generation and third generations may bind the middle group as well.
All the women interviewed here, with the exception of one, have been raised in
the black church, either the Anglican/Episcopal Church or in the Baptist church. Church
provided us all a stable and loving community. In many instances parents, especially
mothers were involved in lay ministry in the parish. Parish life was the center and the
85 Farmer in Prelinger, "Episcopal Woman", 222.
core of our communities and educated many young girls like ourselves in the issues of
social and economic justice.
What we all have maintained is the ability to find connections with other women
wherever our calls take us. The deep bonds of friendship formed at General Theological
Seminary and Union Theological Seminary between Ann Holmes Redding, Sandye
Wilson, Nan Peete and Kelly Brown Douglas are still in place today. New York City
provided the first women with some life-long mentors during the late 1970's to mid
1980's, among them, Bishop Walter Dennis, Bishop Paul Moore, Bishop Herbert
Donovan, Rev. Canon Frederick Boyd Williams and Bishop Frank Turner. In
Philadelphia it was Rev. Paul Washington, in Boston, Bishops John Coburn and John
Burgess, Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman and Rev. Canon Ed Rodman. Other supporters
include: Rev. Canon Kwasi Thornell, Rev. Canon Harold Lewis, Archbishop Desmond
Tutu, Bishop Henry Mason, Rev. Henri Steines, and Rev. Lloyd Casson. Many of the
men listed above have also served as allies along the way. These allies were male and
female, lay and ordained; black and white. They were not afraid to speak truth to power.
They spoke up, whether the situation was as small as being followed as a potential
shoplifter in a local grocery store or as large as receiving death threats.
It is not surprising that the early women experienced struggles in their ordination
process. Both black and white clergy and the laity were at times less than supportive,
often verbally expressing their displeasure with both women seminarians and priests.
These women found creative ways to find supportive havens within their communities,
whether that community was found at a seminary, with a supportive rector, a supportive
instructor, or just when the presence of the Holy Spirit was especially needed.
For all the support that this group of women has gained over the years, we have
all lost friends as a result of our being ordained or marrying out of our race, as a result of
elevation in pastoral status to the level of Bishop or Canon, or working in all-white parish
settings. Two common denominators that span generations are the foundational and
historic ministries of Pauli Murray and Barbara Harris. Mary Adebonojo, Barbara Harris,
Sandye Wilson and Gayle Harris were fortunate enough to have Pauli attend their
ordinations, and for the remainder of the women it is an honor to be acquainted with her
Unlike some of our brothers of African heritage, who knew from an early age that
they were called to the priesthood, we tended to run fast and hard from our call until it
spoke to us in some unlikely places. And in some instances, when the message was so
clear, we continued to ignore that which we were called by God to do. Our employment
histories prior to entering the ordination process included: professor, executive, historic
preservationist, physicist and fundraiser. Our talents and experiences strengthened all of
us women in our ordained ministries.
Experiences of racism, classism, sexism and internalized oppression have deeply
impacted our lives as priests. Some of us have seen the "ism's" in the parishes we have
been called to or placed in. As one of the women said of bishops and deployment
officers, "we are sometimes called and assigned to be in charge of places that they never
would put a white person in." Another woman was told by a former white parishioner
that "the church was fine until the niggers came in." Another was told by a black lay
male, "black women priests would deprive the black male priests from all the good jobs."
Some of these woman have had their offices searched, tires slashed, mail stolen, petitions
for their removal circulated, received hate mail, been yelled at for their color, lived in rat
and roach infested clergy housing, and yet through these experiences they have seldom
wavered in the call to ministry. Women have continued to break through the barriers that
have been placed in front of us with grace, dignity, and as one priest said, "a sense of
fashion and style."
While some of our male priests of African heritage have been our rock and
salvation, relationships between male and female clergy continue to be strained at times.
Some black male clergy find that women called to serve white parishes are "selling out."
Yet, "Many of us are in white parishes" because "those are the parishes that offer us the
jobs", one woman exclaimed. "Very interesting, I haven't quite figured out the dynamics
between us yet" was a phrase used to describe the relationships between male and female
clergy of African heritage. Some women feel that they [the men] don't know what to do
with them. One woman was disappointed that more women were not serving in the black
church. She believes that women are called to serve the black church. It was generally
expressed that all of women of African heritage need to continue to be in mutual
conversation and discernment to work side by side with male clergy of African heritage.
All the women interviewed find support in hymns of praise. Hymns serve as a
continuous way of prayer. Knowing the words and music by heart, we sing loudly and
proudly. We move, we sway and we clap on the less dominant beat of 2 and 4. We sing
at the altar, we sing with each other, we sing by ourselves, we sing off key, and in perfect
harmony, but we sing. And if by some chance we cannot remember the words, we
certainly remember the tune. Hymns of praise are like melodious prayers that can be
sung ever so quietly anywhere and everywhere. The words to hymns are prayers of
comfort in difficult, as well as in good times. One only needs to attend the consecration
of a bishop, the installation of a rector, a funeral, or choir practice to know the
importance of music in our lives. Hymns serve as a foundational source for our
preaching. In some ways this music connects one back to loved ones and ancestors and
by the same token bring the joy of hope, expectation and anticipation.
As the first African American woman ordained in the Episcopal Church, Pauli
Murray's life and work was rooted in the feminist movement. For Pauli, the feminist
theological movement and the movement of black theologies spoke to a need for
humanization and an understanding of the oppressed as subjects of history with whom
God identifies. Although she believed that they were both vital movements towards
religious and social betterment, she felt that neither spoke to the experiences of African
American women who suffered because of their race, gender and class. While Pauli was
on the cutting edge of both the feminist and womanist movements, none of the women
interviewed related any of their particular work as being under the umbrella of "womanist
Although the word "womanist" was not mentioned in any of my interviews, I
believe that these women do follow the elements of womanist theological methodology
as articulated by the author Delores Williams.
1) The female clergy of African heritage are change agents . Women have been
change agents regarding issues of social or political nature. They have been committed to
the care and nurturing of people inside or out of their religious communities. Female
clerical work has been to the care of the least, lost and the last which includes; feeding
and providing spiritual nourishment to the poor and homeless. For all of the women
interviewed ministry has always gone beyond the doors of the church and into making
disciples in the community and beyond.
2) The clergy women of African heritage are informed by liturgy. The love of
liturgy allows a new awareness to the thought, worship and actions of both the black and
white church. As mentioned above, it is not only the hymns of praise that inform our
core being but also the incorporation of new forms of worship. The center of ministry is
always in the celebration of the Eucharist. The women interviewed have been creative in
the worship offerings to their communities. There have been candlelight compline
services led by youth groups, an outdoor church for the homeless, Saturday seeker
services, gospel Sunday services and intentional services to meet the youth where they
are by incorporating contemporary music. The women surveyed have been creative in
their worship offerings but have stayed away from the new contemporary canned services
Delores Williams, The Womanist Reader, ed. Lay li Phillips (New York, Routledge, 2006), 121.
of U2charist and the Hip-Hop Mass. Lectionary based sermons also provide a time to
reflect upon stories of injustice, racism, interpretation of world news events, and the
heartfelt movement of the spirit working in one's life. One priest used the theme song
from the Broadway play "Rent" to begin a sermon addressing the question of how does
one spend their daily life and work as Christians in the world. Another woman used a
personal encounter with a woman raising 17 children whose parents had died of AIDS,
yet another has preached widely about the full and total inclusion of gays and lesbians
into the episcopate of the Church.
3) The clergy woman of African heritage has a gift for teaching. Since their
interpretations of scripture are through the eyes of women of African heritage, they tend
to encourage and nurture others to interpret scripture through their own lenses as well.
All the women emphasize, "Be yourself, and be authentic." There was an importance of
always remembering the order of life priorities, one is prayer life, one is family, and one
is ministry. All the women believe that all people have gifts and one of the clergy's
responsibilities is to encourage people to find their gifts and to celebrate them, whether
they are found within the walls of the church or outside in the world. I heard it expressed
more than once that "we are daughters of Hagar.'" They have all been involved in
bringing young people into the church and providing a foundation and the language for
them to live out the gospel.
U2charist uses the songs of the music group U2 in lieu of hymns. The Hip-Hop Mass, created by
The Rev. Timothy Holder, Bronx, New York, uses the rhyme and poetry of MC's, rappers, gospel and soul
music as an outreach to children and young people.
Hagar was known as a model of power, skill, strength and drive. Genesis, chapters 16 and 21 .
4) The clergy women of African heritage have commitment to imagery and
cultural language. Woman of African heritage are a people of stories. As stories have
been passed down in their lives from generation to generation, they too have their stories
to pass to those we serve, as well as those women of African heritage who are following
in the ordination process. All of them came of age where the dominant image of God
was Father and Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the angels were Caucasian. Yet, they have
always had their own image of God, Jesus, the Holy Family and angels. I recall my
father telling me at an early age that "Jesus couldn't possibly have blond hair and blue
eyes, not coming from that region of the world." The angels were family members who
had passed, who still held a place of reverence, and a source of eternal wisdom. They
have not only created our own images, but are comfortable enough to express these
images with others. Whether they knew it at the time of our call, ordination or our work
in ministry, we all feel the connectivity with our sisters, lay and ordained, living or
It has been said that those things which bind us together are stronger than those
that tear us apart. Female clergy of African heritage continue to work their contemporary
quilts which are hidden in plain sight.
In the course of writing this thesis I have developed a deep and abiding personal
connection and empathy with other ordained women of African heritage in TEC. Their
linkages, their connections - at times acknowledged, sometimes not - connect these
women, myself included, across time and space.
Storytelling has always been an important part of the upbringing of women of
African heritage. Through storytelling, questions were answered, history was conveyed,
and lifelong lessons were taught and processed. I have heard it said that when an elder
passes on, it's as if a library has burned.
I have attempted to share stories about some of the first eleven African- American
women ordained in TEC, as well as stories of some of my contemporaries in ministry. I
hope that this body of work will serve to supplement the educational teachings about
ordained women's transforming leadership and power. The questions and scenarios
found in the appendix are intended to broaden the scope of the work of deployment
officers, search committees, parishes and consultants.
Why are the stories important and what place do they have in the history of TEC?
These stories provide another level of context to examine in the church. TEC church is a
place full of possibilities, chaos, creativity and conflict. It is a place where harmony and
conflict co-exist. It's a place that transcends and defies dualism, where rigid linear reality
cannot exist and a place where multiculturalism and diverse identities mix and mingle in
a constant ebb and flow of prayer, mess, mediation and mitigation. In other words: God
is calling all people into the beloved community.
With the exception of Pauli Murray, the remaining ten women in the first
generation of priests are alive and in good health. They recall their stories like it was
yesterday, and are still active in the church. I wanted to hear their stories. I wanted to
hear their experiences first hand. I wanted to share in the community of women, both lay
and ordained, who persevered so that I could become a priest. The same interest to know
the story of the Philadelphia eleven expanded my desire to know about the first eleven
ordained African- American women, five of whom I interviewed for this project.
My contemporaries attended a number of different seminaries. Sometimes we
were brought together at an OBES (Organization of Black Episcopal Seminarians)
Conference. For the most part we were brought together by word of mouth, to find
community where none had previously existed. We were branching out into white
suburban and rural parishes. We found that we needed to "find" each other for mutual
care and support. The mentoring process with both black and white allies was a critical
and key component to our work in parishes. We also realized that we were sometimes an
enigma in our dioceses, with deployment officers, search committees and bishops alike
not knowing quite what to do with us in terms of deployment.
As far as I am aware, this thesis is the first compilation of the stories from a
selection of the first African- American women ordained in the Episcopal Church. It was
through conversations and ordination dates that I was able to compile the list. It would
be a rich addition to the curriculum of Episcopal Church history if their stories were
included and made part of the national church archives. Present curriculum material
provides supplemental information on Native Americans, women's history, and African
American history mostly from the male perspective.
Likewise, the women of African heritage who are entering, or are now in the
ordination process, could benefit from the stories and experiences of all these women.
We are at a very pivotal time in our church in regards to the changing models of parish
ministry. Bi-vocational appears to be the new deployment word. If these women are
informed about our experiences in parish ministry, this better equips them with the
questions to ask and perhaps some pitfalls to avoid when working with the diocesan
deployment officers, search committees and bishops.
Allies, black and white, male and female, have provided and are still providing a
crucial ministerial support to all of the women. These allies function as sounding boards
and wise counsel, listening and offering sound advice. They see the ministry of women
of African heritage on a broad scale. They have spoken and continue to boldly speak to
issues of racial, social and economic justice. Mentors have proven to be invaluable
guides along these women's spiritual journeys.
Until last year the Office of Black Ministries held no track for clergy working
outside of black parishes. Many of women did not attend the conferences as there was
nothing on the agenda that addressed serving in all-white or predominately white
parishes. Group discussions, a space for active listening, will enhance and broaden the
oral stories so that will create a space for shared experiences and follow God's call for to
be in covenant relationship with each other. In addition, we can further deepen this
discussion to include God's call to each of us to live out our baptismal covenant in all
In the appendix readers will find questions and scenarios for group work, that
seek to integrate the stories with motives for examining the ordained leadership of
women of African heritage. They are written with bishops, deployment officers,
parishes, search committees and consultants in mind. I have used female clergy of
African heritage as a reference point, but the material can be faithfully adapted to looking
at the ministry of other ethnic groups.
When church leaders are able to look at the search process through different
lenses, I believe it will broaden their search criteria when looking at potential applicants
for clergy positions.
Working with the Stories of Women of African Heritage in Broadening the Call to
In group work I always believe that there are group norms that ground and center
people. The group should feel free to tailor or add as required. I would suggest that the
group opens every session with prayer for God's guidance in the work they will be
Suggested Guidelines for Recognizing and Valuing Differences:
The Sharing of Yourself:
• Try on.
• It's okay to disagree. It's not okay to shame, blame, or attack oneself of
• Practice self focus.
• Practice "both/and" thinking.
• Beware of intent and impact.
• Take 100 percent responsibility for one's own learning.
• Maintain confidentiality.
• It's okay to be messy.
• Say ouch. 89
William M. Kondrath, God's Tapestry: Understanding and Celebrating Differences (Hemdon,
Virginia, The Alban Institute, 2008), 4. These guidelines were originally written by Visions, Inc.
Listen to Others:
• Hold each speaker's words as sacred.
• Listen with an understanding and open heart, acceptance and support of
• Allow persons to draw their own conclusions from their word without
offering analysis, probing, judgment, or an attempt to "fix" them.
• Allow each person to do his or her own work and be supportive of each
person's personal journey.
• Stretch to really listen to others, for those things said and those things left
• Honor each person by giving your full attention.
It is only in the giving of time and space for the sharing of stories, fears and concerns that
we will move into including the names of women of African heritage on the table for
deployment in the church.
Some Suggested Questions for Bishops and Deployment Officers.
• How many women of African Heritage have been called through a search process
to be the lead pastor? Looking at the stories you have read how can bishops, and
deployment officers be more supportive of the call to ordained leadership either in
a parish or on the Diocesan staff?
How many women of African Heritage have appointed by the local bishop to
serve as priest-in-charge, interims or in other capacities?
Based on the stories you have read what are some of the barriers in issues of
deployment facing women of African heritage in your diocese today?
How can we as leaders in the church read and share these stories as a part of our
Some Suggested Questions and Exercises for Small Group Work
(lay and ordained)
• Read Acts 2:43-47
Reflecting on the passage consider the following questions.
* What is the reality of the existence of such a community today?
* How does this picture of the early church influence what we are called to
be as the church today?
* What would it take to move our parish families toward it?
• As reflected in the stories you have read, what does the "Good News" that Jesus
brings mean to you?
Scenario One: Lifelines
Materials Needed: colored markers, pencils, large newsprint and masking tape.
When we take a look at the Gospel of Mark we are immediately drawn into Jesus'
journey. Rooted in an oral tradition the Gospel moves smoothly; it is almost as if you
are sitting at the feet of a consummate storyteller.
In the lifelines exercise, you will draw something of your journey, both from the
external perspective of what happened and from a spiritual perspective, the inner
meaning of your journey. You can define "spiritual" in any way that you life. You
will then be given an opportunity to explain your journey, your lifeline, with your
Drawing your external and spiritual lifeline is an excellent way to begin to think
about how your story connects with Mark's story, and how you can bring your
experiences face-to-face with the divine events in the life of Jesus and better open
yourself. Your times in desert places, on high plateaus, in dark valleys, along
winding roads, or on the mountain top all resonate with the story Mark tells.
With a marker on the large newsprint chronologically chart those points in your
life that mark the hills and valleys of your life. If you were increasingly happy as a
child, you might draw a gradually ascending hill. If adolescence was an especially
difficult time, you would draw a rather steep descent once the peak of the hill was
reached. If your twenties were good years but calm, you might want to draw a
plateau: if turbulent, you could indicate this by jagged peaks and valleys. Continue
this until you have drawn the place where you are now. Then with a pencil label each
of the most significant events and turning points in your life.
Now with a different color marker, beginning at the same place, draw your
spiritual lifeline. Define spiritual any way that you would like. For example: the
power of the church community in your life, your relationship with the Lord, your
appreciation with the sacraments and/or Scripture, your encounter with God. With
your pencil label the significant spiritual events in your life.
Each person shares their lifeline; you do not have to explain what everything
Rationale: Like the Gospel of Mark and the stories we have read, we get to the
current place in both our physical and spiritual lives through a process. We are often
called to serve the church knowing very little of the people with whom we are to
make important decisions. This connects everyone through the use of their own
personal stories. How can you also connect the stories you have read with your own
Scenario Two: Community in the Book of Acts
Materials needed: comfortable surroundings and candles.
Luke was the author not only of the Third Gospel; he was also the author of the
Book of Acts, which picks up where the Gospel narrative ends. Luke says that Jesus
began his ministry in the power of the Spirit. Luke begins Acts by showing that the
same Spirit that dwelt in Jesus as an individual now comes to indwell the church that
God calls into being. The Holy Spirit comes in a powerful way. Like a mighty wind,
to fill people gathered at Jerusalem for Pentecost.
We quickly learn that the special work of the Holy Spirit is to unify. God, the
Father/Mother creates and gives the law; God the Son redeems the fallen creation
showing the way, God the Holy Spirit unifies, brings together, and makes community.
The sudden feeling of union that descends upon old and new followers of Jesus on
Pentecost is so strong that Luke describes the experience this way, (read Acts 2:1-4).
In the Christian view, the Church, with all of its failings, is not just a bunch of
people who come together to worship God; it is rather a community empowered by
the mighty Spirit of God, the Mighty Wind of God. When we are being that church
we feel that power; it is strong enough to transform lives, strong enough to raise up
the weak, save the lost. Strong enough to help us fight effectively against racism, and
for social and economic justice.
Questions: How are we called after reading these stories to act as changes agents
for full inclusion in TEC? Where are some of the places where you can clearly see
the work of the Holy Spirit moving through the lives of these women?
Questions for Interviews
First African American women ordained in the Episcopal Church
• Where were you born?
• What was your religious upbringing?
• What are the experiences that informed your early life?
• How did you receive that "call to ordination"?
• What is your sense of call now and how was that formed?
• What was your seminary and how was the experience as an African American
• When you ordained and what was your view of your process?
• What one or two persons were your mentors and/or foremost in their journey to
• What was your first cure/job, how was that experience seen through thru the
lenses of an African American woman?
• Parish life vs. non-parish life? Climate and decision (if applicable)?
• What are/have you involved in, in parish and community?
• What was it like being part of the first eleven African American women ordained
in the Episcopal Church?
• What have been your greatest challenges and your greatest joys?
• What experiences are unique in the TEC to African American women/challenges?
• What have been your experiences with your Diocese of ordination and your
Diocese of present/past?
How do you do church, as an African American woman?
What are your spiritual practices that keep you centered?
What are/ have been your support resources?
Experience in the wider church?
Experiences of racism, sexism, and other "isms" you have faced?
Experience in the Black Church?
Experience in the White Church /wider Church?
What information, advice etc would you like to pass on to women of African
descent in ministry now?
What about your pastoral relationships with male clergy of African heritage?
Is there a question that you wish I would have asked?
Bibliography and Recommended Reading List
Boyer, Horace C. ed. Lift Every Voice and Sing II: An African American Hymnal. New
York, Church Publishing Incorporated, 1993.
Bozzuti-Jones, Mark. The Miter Fits Just Fine! A Story About the Rt. Rev. Barbara
Clementine Harris, The First Woman Bishop in the Anglican Communion. Cambridge
MA: Cowley Publications, 2003.
Bragg, George. History of the Afro-American Group of the Episcopal Church. Baltimore:
Advocate Press, 1922.
Carpenter, Delores C. A Time for Honor: A Portrait of African American Clergywomen.
St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001.
Church Terrell, Mary. A Colored Woman in a White World. Washington, D.C.: Ransdell,
Darling, Pamela W. New Wine: The Story of Women Transforming Leadership and
Power in the Episcopal Church. Cambridge MA: Cowley Publication, 2004.
Donovan, Mary S. Women Priests in the Episcopal Church: The Experience of the First
Decade. Cincinnati: Forward Movement Publications, 1988.
Dozier, Verna. The Calling of the Laity: Verna Dozier 's Anthology, Herndon, VA: Alban
Episcopal Clerical Directory (1917-2009). New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation.
Findlay, Jr., James F. Church People in the Struggle: The National Council of Churches
and the Black Freedom Movement, 1950-1970. New York: Oxford University Press,
Gilkes, Cheryl T. If it Wasn 'tfor the Women. New York: Orbis, 2001
Kondrath, William M. God's Tapestry: Understanding and Celebrating Differences
Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2008.
Kujawa-Holbrook, Sheryl A. Freedom is a Dream: A Documentary History of Women in
The Episcopal Church. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2002.
Lewis, Harold T. Yet with a Steady Beat: The African-American Struggle for Recognition
in the Episcopal Church. Valley Forge: PA: Trinity Press International, 1996.
Lincoln, C. Eric and Lawrence H. Mamiya. The Black Church in the African American
Experience. Durham: Duck University Press, 1990.
Murray, Pauli. Dark Testament and Other Poems. Norwalk, CT: Silvermine, 1970.
Murray, Pauli. Proud Shoes: the Story of an American Family. New York: Harper and
Murray, Pauli. Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage. New York: Harper
& Row, 1987.
Pauli Murray Papers. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study,
Phillips, Layli ed. The Womanist Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Prelinger, Catherine P ed. Episcopal Women: Gender, Spirituality, and Commitment in
an American Mainline Denomination. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Rodman, Edward. Let There Be Peace Among Us: A Story of the Union of Black
Episcopalians. Lawrence ville, VA: Brunswick Publishing Corporation, 1990.
Scott, Anne F. ed. Pauli Murray & Caroline Ware: Forty Years of Letters in Black and
White. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
Shattuck, Jr., Gardner. Episcopalians and Race: Civil War to Civil Rights. Lexington
KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2000.
Taylor, Robert G. "A Historical Overview of the Presence and Experience of the
African Diaspora at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church."
master's thesis, General Theological Seminary, 2009.
Thompsett, Fredrica Harris. "Hidden in Plain View: African America Episcopal
Women's Histories" (lecture, Virginia Theological Seminary, Arlington, VA,
February 24, 2005).
Thompsett, Fredrica Harris. "Women in the American Episcopal Church," Encyclopedia
of Women and Religion in North America. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2006.
Thompsett, Fredrica Harris and Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook, eds. Deeper Joy: Lay Women
and Vocation in the 20 th Century Episcopal Church. New York: Church Publishing,
Townes, Emilie. In a Blaze of Glory, Womanist Spirituality as a Social Witness.
Nashville: Abington, 1995.
Washington, Paul M. Other Sheep I Have: The Autobiography of Father Paul M.
Washington. Philadelphia: Temple Press, 1994.
EDS/WESTON JESUIT LIBRARY
3 0135 00273 697